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November 19, 2015

Tell me what attracted you to your job at YMCA.

Melissa Opsahl, ladies and gentlemen!

When I started working at the Y, honestly, it was just a part time job where I could bring my son with me. As things moved on, as I started working here, I realized that everything we’re doing here had a purpose and a reason. We are role models – developing these children socially, mentally, and physically. In this part of Michigan we’re in service of a lot of underprivileged kids, kids in need. To be able to be there for them, to be a part of their lives and a consistent safe place is really great.

When I started working in preschool, we had this little girl, Sara, who was nonverbal. She had never been in a preschool setting before or been around other kids her own age. Her family was so appreciative that we took the time to get her acclimated into the environment and show her how to make friends. Even though she couldn’t speak to them, just providing those steps for her to take home and for her to do here, to let her be more social –  that was my ah ha moment.

What are your day-to-day challenges?

With our Y, specifically, we’re very diverse. On one side of the street we have Rochester Hills, which is a more wealthy area, and on the other side we have Pontiac, which is the complete opposite. A lot of people in Pontiac are on state assistance or unemployed, and that’s a very at risk community. Meshing those two together is a really good thing. We’re able to help those people who need the help and then we’re also able to get the other part of the community involved.

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We have a lot of kids – our site director will do a lesson about healthy eating and hand out raisins and kids will be like, I don’t know what that is. We got raisins in our snack and the kids were like, what are these? Well, we’d say, they’re dehydrated grapes. They still had no idea. They’d never seen any raisins.

Pontiac is a food desert. They don’t have grocery stores, they have convenience stores. That’s where they’re buying their Cheetos, their pop, all their daily food. We provide a healthy supper and a healthy snack. For us to ask these questions, introduce raisins, anything – it’s a lot of knowledge, and that helps.

It’s cold in Detroit! How much of a challenge is it to get kids doing a certain amount of physical activity in the winter? How important is it to you to make that happen?

To me, it’s way different from when I was younger. They only cancelled recess then if it was, like, cats or dogs pouring outside. They didn’t care how cold it was. No matter what, we went outside. Now, if it’s 30 degrees we stay inside. Kids aren’t able to go outside for recess, and they have an alternative to stay in the classroom, but that’s not physical activity. We are lucky in our afterschool site in the sense that we have a playground inside that the kids get to utilize. This sounds really weird, but our school used to be a Target building. It’s in a strip mall. It’s big, so we have a playground inside, actually, but there’s no place to go outside ever, so we’re just stuck inside. It’s better that we have a playground inside so they still get that activity. Otherwise, they’re just sitting inside. I see more behavior issues – kids have all this energy and they need to let it out somehow. If you don’t give them the time & space to run it off, they’re going to get antsy.

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What did you take away from the CATCH training?

Definitely the lessons on the go/slow/whoa foods. I think that’s a great way to explain things. I liked the fact that CATCH doesn’t say that you shouldn’t eat these foods. CATCH just says: This is a “whoa” food, you shouldn’t eat it very often. That’s what I really like, and also the idea of CATCH-ifying the games we already have. CATCH gives us a new way to do old games; I think it’s really great that kids are going to keep moving instead of standing on the sidelines.

Melissa Opsahl is a youth & families coordinator at the YMCA of Metropolitan Detroit.