Prior to his move from Pennsylvania to Tampa about two years ago, Dan Jurman attended a conference in Baltimore where he learned about and sensed an excitement about first lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” initiative.
It’s an effort to curb the incidence of childhood obesity by promoting healthy, more active lifestyles.
Jurman, University Area Community Development Corporation president and CEO, set his sights on creating programs close to home that work toward that end.
With the help of a recent $3,000 Molina Healthcare of Florida grant and $1,000 from the UACDC budget, Jurman said the agency has implemented both a Saturday morning fun fitness program and summer fitness camp at the University Area Community Center, 14013 N. 22nd St.
At the same time, administrators at Mort Elementary School, on East Bearss Avenue adjacent to 18th Street, have kicked off their Walking School Bus initiative.
It’s one in which volunteers are being recruited to walk to school with students who live within two miles of the school and are ineligible to ride the school bus. The timeline is between 7 and 7:45 a.m.
Although Mort’s Walking School Bus program receives no direct funding from the UACDC, Jurman said his staff is helping deliver flyers about the program and its need for volunteers to residents at University Village, a senior residential community, and to students at the University of South Florida.
The UACDC’s major role is focused of the healthy lifestyle aspect of the program while Mort’s is concentrating more on the children’s safety.
“There is no question the students’ safety is very important,” Jurman said, noting what he witnessed when he and a group of other people recently went to the area along 18th Street where parents were waiting pick up their children after school.
“We noticed there were no sidewalks and we saw several overgrown bushes,” he said.
Social worker Melissa Enzor, Mort’s Walking Bus coordinator, noted school personnel are also aware of those and other safety issues and that the No.1 priority is to protect students from harm.
“At certain times of the year it’s still dark when the children leave for school in the morning and there is crime in the area,” Enzor said.
She also said many parents in the area work the night shift or have other younger children not yet of school age for which they also are responsible. It can be challenge for them to walk a child to school on time.
“This initiative also means a lot to us because it’s so important for parents to get their children to school,” Enzor said.
Jason Jackman, the Safe Routes to School Coordinator for the area with the Center for Urban Transportation Research at the University of South Florida, is assisting with the Mort’s Walking School Bus program. He’s managed similar programs at more than 20 Hillsborough County schools.
The effort, he said, is funded by the Florida Department of Transportation District 7.
“We’ve really made a strong connection this year with parents with the help of the Melissa Enzor,” said Jackman.
Interested volunteers will undergo background checks and then attend a planning/training session. In it they will learn laws pertaining to pedestrians; make plans for where they’ll stop for student pick-ups; and be shown how to be a walking leader.
Volunteers also will be given outreach strategies to entice others to participate and they’ll be encouraged to report safety hazards like sidewalk obstructions and barriers.
“Walking is a great physical activity for all ages and what better way to get your 20 minutes of walking then with a group of students on the way to school,” Jackman said.
People interested in volunteering may contact Jackman at (813) 974-6065 or at firstname.lastname@example.org, or Enzor, at (813) 975-7373, ext. 233, or at email@example.com.