12th PALS camp to help more than 500 local youth

June 17, 2013  

Local youth learn judo

Local youth, ages 8-14, learn judo in the 2012 Purdue Athletes Life Success program, which serves children who qualify based on income guidelines. The program does not advertise or recruit, but more than 500 campers are registered and there is a waiting list. This year's camp is June 13 to July 12. (Purdue University file photo/Mark Simons)
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WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — An annual Purdue University summer program that has benefited nearly 3,000 low-income Tippecanoe County children for more than a decade by providing lessons about sports and healthy living, also is boosting campers' self-esteem and interest in physical activity, according to new research.

The Purdue Athletes Life Success program, which serves children who qualify based on income guidelines, began its 12th year on June 13 and will run through July 12. The program is housed in the Department of Health and Kinesiology and does not advertise or recruit, but more than 500 campers are registered and there is a waiting list. 

"When we started in 2002 the focus was on sports and physical well-being, and while that drives the activities each year, the heart of the programming is positive personal development," said Bill Harper, PALS co-director and professor of health and kinesiology. "PALS has just four weeks with these children, but all aspects are dedicated to encouraging positive attitude, self-esteem and hope so they will be successful in life.

"Since 2007 researchers have been studying the effectiveness and consequences of this approach, and we're finding that, yes, four weeks in a program like ours makes a difference," Harper said. "Moving forward, the next research phases will tell us how the camp experience helps children in the classroom and how we can better train our program team leaders."

The campers, ages 8-14, spend time at various stations - strategically spaced on campus so campers walk more than an hour a day - to learn about sports, such as soccer, judo, softball, basketball, swimming, volleyball and active team building games. Other stations include art, dance, careers, healthy eating and American Sign Language. Purdue Federal Credit Union also offers a financial literacy component. The campers are placed in groups based on age and are with the same team leaders through the program. These relationships between campers and their adult role models are associated with changes in self-esteem and positive attitudes, said Meghan McDonough, associate professor of health and kinesiology who is leading the research.

The first sets of findings were recently published in Research Quarterly and Journal of Adolescence, and a consistent finding is that campers' self-esteem improves by the end of camp.

"The campers who reported the most supportive leaders at the end of camp, were more likely to improve self-esteem and motivation for physical activity," McDonough said. "And, self-esteem is especially important for these at-risk youth. We also found that these higher self-esteem levels were retained after camp ended."

Local youth learn swim

Local youth, ages 8-14, swim at the 2012 Purdue Athletes Life Success program. This year's camp is June 13 to July 12, and more than 500 campers will attend. The campers rotate stations, which are strategically spaced on campus so participants walk more than an hour a day. (Purdue University file photo/Mark Simons)
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The importance and influence of adult leaders in such youth programming is well known, but McDonough said there are few tested guidelines or curriculum on how to help such adult role models strengthen these relationships and connections. This summer McDonough's team will be implementing and testing a new training curriculum.

The 24 PALS team leaders are current or recent college students, and about a third of these team leaders are Purdue NCAA athletes or are involved in club sports. Eight of this year's team leaders are former campers themselves, and 10 recent campers were selected to serve as junior team leaders.

While the data analysis and publication of research data takes time, McDonough and her team regularly report their preliminary findings to Harper so the camp can be updated.

"The research takes place behind the scenes, but it is essential to camp function and helps us improve the camp each year," Harper said. "A few years ago, the researchers picked up on a theme of campers referencing local gang activity, so we adapted the programming to have anti-gang speakers and work more closely with local anti-gang resources. These research findings also inspired us to adopt themes related to kindness, fairness, courage and caring."

PALS is supported by many community and campus contributions, including the Division of Recreational Sports, which provides the fields, pool and other areas for activity stations, and Housing and Food Services, where the campers eat breakfast and lunch every day. Doctors and nurse practitioners from Purdue University Student Health Center and Unity Healthcare provided free medical exams to all campers in May. The exams include general physical health, vision, orthopedics and blood pressure.

Program funding comes partially from Purdue Federal Credit Union and the Brees Dream Foundation. Drew Brees is the former All-America quarterback for Purdue, and 2010 Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints. PALS also received $10,700 from the inaugural Purdue Boilermaker Half-Marathon and 5K on Oct. 20. This year's race on Oct. 19 will support PALS again, and more information is available at http://purduehalf.com/

The research component is funded by the Purdue University Clifford Kinley Trust Grant.

Writer: Amy Patterson Neubert, 765-494-9723, apatterson@purdue.edu

Sources: Bill Harper, 765-496-6723, wharper@purdue.edu

Meghan McDonough, 765-496-9483, mcdonough@purdue.edu

Related website: 
College of Health and Human Sciences

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