June 13, 2017

PALS program celebrates 16 years of teaching kids’ life skills

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Several hundred Tippecanoe County kids will spend the summer learning about career development, healthy eating, financial literacy and more as part of the Purdue Athletes Life Success program.

PALS, now in its 16th year, runs from June 15 to July 14 and uses sports, science, animals and the arts to keep around 400 campers entertained and educated. Participants are between the ages of 8-14 and income qualifying. 

“PALS is a positive youth development program.  By way of it we try to stimulate and inspire our children to improve their opportunities for life success,” said co-program director Bill Harper.

Joining Harper in a leadership role this year is Purdue health and kinesiology professor Bonnie Blankenship. A former physical education teacher and current instructor of future teachers, she is excited to help kids learn not only about an active lifestyle, but also about the camp’s core pillars of respect, responsibility, caring and courage.

“The pillars of character are infused into every aspect of camp – the instructors weave them into their lessons, the team leaders model and reinforce the pillars with their campers, and even the dining hall staff help campers understand the pillars in that setting,” she said.

While athletic activities include the popular soccer, basketball and swimming, they also include judo and Sharbade, a mash-up of water polo and soccer where competitors — both able-bodied and physically challenged — lie on wheeled carts and use their arms to maneuver while trying to score in the opponent’s goal. 

PALS continues expanding its commitment to STEM education in 2017 with stations dedicated to computer programing and app development as well as problem solving and critical thinking on engineering projects. New this year for some campers is a visit to the Celery Bog nature area with Purdue environmental science and forestry department staff.

“It is exciting to see our campers learn about fields like engineering and environmental science in ways they may not be exposed in the schools,” says Blankenship. “It helps them see how such fields can contribute to their lives and even exposes them to possible careers for their futures.”

Other stations include art and dance, and the popular comfort dogs from the Lafayette chapter of Therapy Dogs International will visit campers on Wednesdays.

“Nurturing the human and animal bond is especially important,” says Harper. “Our children get really excited when the therapy dogs and K-9 dogs come to camp.”

Dental education stations are part of the curriculum this year, and dentists will be on site to provide care to campers in need. While days in the PALS program nourish the body and mind with exercise and education, kids’ bodies are also being nourished by daily meals.

“There is a good deal of publicity about the childhood obesity crises.  But when we do camp-wide BMIs, we find that 44 percent of our PALS children are undernourished or suffering from malnutrition,” said Harper.

Campers are divided by age group, and each group is led by team leaders who are current or recent college students, some of whom are Purdue NCAA or club sport athletes. PALS campers will spend a day working out with members of the Purdue football team and Head Coach Jeff Brohm’s staff, and an appearance by former Boilermaker star, and current Atlanta Falcons safety Ricardo Allen is planned.

Of 56 staff members taking part in 2017, nearly half are former PALS campers. Some are team leaders, while others return in support roles.

“We often find that our best staff members are former campers. They understand the camp, and they understand the campers and can relate to them,” said Blankenship.

PALS receives assistance from Purdue Federal Credit Union, and New Orleans Saints QB Drew Brees, a Purdue alumnus, as well as several other local business leaders and corporate foundations. The Boilermaker Half-Marathon and 5K, which will be held October 14, also benefits PALS.

PALS is supported by the College of Health and Human Sciences, and receives generous space accommodations by the Division of Recreational Sports and Purdue’s Dining and Residence Hall Services.  PALS also partners with local school corporations and agencies: Lafayette, Tippecanoe County and West Lafayette - as well as United Way, Wabash Valley Alliance, Indiana Department of Education, and Project Safe Neighborhood.

State Street Redevelopment Project construction is in progress on the Purdue University West Lafayette campus. This work has closed a large portion of State Street and significantly affected surrounding thoroughfares in West Lafayette. For project and travel information, visit http://statestreetwl.com/

Writer: Tim Doty, 765-496-2571, doty2@purdue.edu

Sources: Bonnie Blankenship,765-494-3188, bblanke@purde.edu

Bill Harper, wharper@purdue.edu

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