Group gives kids ‘passports’ to the great outdoors

ADDISON COUNTY — Do you like spending time outdoors?
Most of us (kids and adults) answer, “Yes!” But when it comes right down to it, we don’t actually spend as much time as we might like outside.
“The statistics show us that about 50 percent of kids today play outside as they did in the ’80s,” sited Andy Paluch, executive director of Come Alive Outside — a non-profit based in Rutland. “There are so many things competing for our attention these days.”
To help get more kids and families outside, Come Alive Outside last week launched its first Winter Passport program in Addison County in partnership with Better Middlebury Partnership, Middlebury Parks and Recreation Department, Middlebury Area Land Trust and others. Paluch visited nine elementary schools and pre-K programs — in Cornwall, Bridport, Middlebury, Ripton, Salisbury, Shoreham, Weybridge and Bristol — to hand out 1,500 passports to pre-K through sixth grade students and get them excited about the outdoors.
“The kids get fired up, and the teachers love it,” Paluch said of his school tours. “ACSD has been really supportive in helping launch this project.”    ANDY PALUCH, EXECUTIVE director of Come Alive Outside, gets Bridport Central School students excited about the Winter Passport program. He visited eight other Addison County schools to do the same.
The passports are small booklets with simple instructions: “Do fun stuff. Earn points. Win awesome prizes.”
Sounds pretty good.
“We’re trying to give families an extra incentive to go out to a park or do something outside,” Paluch explained.
Kids can earn points by visiting one of the eight designated parks in Middlebury, going to the Middlebury Farmers Market, participating in Middlebury Winter Fest on Feb. 24, building snowmen, skating at the Memorial Sports Center, skiing at the Snow Bowl or Rikert Nordic ski area, cheering on the Middlebury College Panthers at the Peterson Family Athletics Complex or playing a game at Middlebury Indoor Tennis. Passports will be collected at school on March 12, which gives students a little more than eight weeks to get as many points as they can.
Participants that tally up 10 points can claim a prize at the Prize Center (in the Isley Public Library Children’s Room) anytime before March 12. Those who earn 15 or more points, will be entered to win one of the 10 grand prizes.
Grand prizes were donated from local businesses including Middlebury Mountaineer, Middlebury Indoor Tennis, Forth ’N Goal and Green Mountain Adventures. Drawings will be held on March 12 at the various schools.
“What I love most about this project is how many community groups it brings together,” said Jamie Montague, executive director of the Middlebury Area Land Trust. “When you skim through the passport, you really get a feel for how getting youth outside, active and appreciating nature is a priority for the partners.”
“The passport is just one of a long list of examples when several different organizations and businesses come together to partner on an initiative for the good of the community,” said Better Middlebury Partnership Marketing Director Karen Dugway. “We’re fortunate to have so many people and organizations who want to work together to continue to make our community better all the time and the Better Middlebury Partnership is proud to be a part of that continued effort.”
   ANDY PALUCH OF Come Alive Outside poses at a Middlebury park with a sign showing a code that local children can record in their “Winter Passport” to accrue points toward prizes.
Funding for the passport program comes from the Vermont Department of Health. In Addison County organizers secured $16,540 of a $34,540 grant that supports the “3>4>50” initiative. This program addresses “3 health behaviors that contribute to 4 chronic diseases that claim the lives of more than 50 percent of Vermonters.” The behaviors are “lack of physical activity, poor nutrition and tobacco use.”
“We had the opportunity to apply for funding through the Middlebury office,” said Moira Cook, Health Services District director in Middlebury. “Come Alive is a perfect match with our 3>4>50 campaign. It gets kids outdoors and active during the winter.”
“We all love being outside, we just forget sometimes,” Paluch reminded. “The outdoors makes us happy; it gives kids a first-hand experience with nature; it’s where community happens. Whether you’re playing in your neighbor’s yard or at a park, it’s that unstructured imaginative play outdoors that makes us who we are.

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