PALS program that helps children live healthy, attracts more students than ever

June 15, 2010

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — A record number of children -- more than 500 -- will learn sport, health and academic skills to help them be successful in the game of life at the 2010 Purdue University Purdue Athletes Life Success Program.

The program's enrollment, as well as its community support, continues to climb during this ninth season of camp. The program received more than 700 applications this year. The camp, which is Thursday (June 17) to July 15, is free for underserved children, ages 8-14, who are selected based on referrals from local schools.

"People often think about the fitness component of the camp, but it has evolved to focus on overall wellness, academic skills, music and financial literacy," says Bill Harper, camp director and professor and head of the Department of Health and Kinesiology. "No matter if a child is learning how to hit a volleyball, balance a checkbook or eat nutritious snacks, we emphasize the same four characteristics: respect, caring, responsibility and trust. These provide a solid foundation for these youngsters to excel in life."

The campers, in groups of 20, participate in a variety of activities that also includes learning about nutrition, computers, careers and community services. Some of the popular fitness activities are swimming, basketball, soccer, volleyball, team handball and Zumba.

These activity stations are spaced 10 minutes apart so by the end of the day the children have spent 70 minutes walking in addition to the physical activities.

"More than 2,000 children have attended since the camp began in 2002, and more than half of them return for a second year, and even a few of them, about 30, have returned as either junior team leader or camp counselors," said Kim Lehnen, assistant program director and administrative assistant for the Department of Health and Kinesiology. "That is an incredible testament to the impact of this program."

Harper and Lehnen often hear from campers, their parents and even teachers about how the PALS experience improves children's attitudes and sportsmanship. To better understand this effect, researchers in the Department of Health and Kinesiology are studying some of the campers' physical fitness, academic achievements and social relationships year round.

PALS, formerly the National Youth Sports Program, changed its name in summer 2008 thanks to support from Drew Brees' The Brees Dream Foundation and Purdue Employees Federal Credit Union, which is known as PEFCU.

Brees is the former Boilermaker All-America quarterback, current quarterback for the Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints and PEFCU spokesperson since 2001. His visit to camp this year is sponsored by PEFCU as part of its emphasis to support local youth.

Before the name change, the national program honored Purdue's camps for its achievements, including being named best new program in 2002 and special recognition for its 2004 and 2005 programs. In 2009 the American Heart Association honored Harper with the Cor Vitae Award for enhancing the community through innovation, philanthropy, vision and leadership.

The National Youth Sports Program began in 1969, and in 2005 there were more than 200 programs nationwide. However, the program's federal funding was reduced, and in 2007 Purdue's program was one of only 56 in the nation to receive partial funding. Federal funding was withdrawn from all National Youth Sports Programs in 2007, but Purdue's camp successfully continues through university, private and corporate donor support and is now one of only 15 such programs left in the nation, and the only one left in Indiana.

Writer: Amy Patterson Neubert, 765-494-9723,

Sources: Bill Harper, 765-494-3178,
                 Kim Lehnen, 765-494-3178,