An expansive estate on the near-Northwestside is making good on a long-standing promise to open its doors to the broader community as The Fitness Farm, a nonprofit focused on reducing childhood obesity.
"This was Mom's vision," says Joan SerVaas, camp director and president and publisher of The Saturday Evening Post. "Our goal was always to take this property and devote it to children's health."
That goal of Dr. Corey SerVaas, the former publisher of The Post, and her husband, longtime City-County Council President BuertSerVaas, was once the cause of controversy. Criticism of the family's transfer of this property to not-for-profit corporations they controlled, while apparently still deriving substantial personal use of the property and its facilities, was the subject of a feature article in this publication("Beurt's Backyard," March 16-23, 2000).
The SerVaas estate is now abuzz with the activities once limited to drawing-board concepts. Now in its second year of operation, the Forever-Fit summer camp is helping children to shed weight and body mass and learn habits that will hopefully lead to healthier lifestyles.
The morning scene at Forever-Fit Summer Camp is almost identical to one playing out at other day camps all around the community. About three dozen kids sit at several tables in a large airy dining hall, eating breakfast, laughing, and discussing the day's plans for bike riding, tennis, and a hike.
A few signs betray this camp's special mission. The calories for the morning's breakfast — English muffin, cantaloupe, eggs — are written on a flip chart at the front of the hall, all the easier for the kids to record the food into their daily meal and exercise journals. Later in the day, the adjoining kitchen area will host the campers' parents for a nutrition seminar and a cooking demonstration.
Almost all of the kids here at the 24-acre Fitness Farm are coping with weight issues. Forever-Fit is designed to help them and their families adjust their lifestyle and eating habits.
"The epidemic of childhood obesity is mind-boggling," Dr. Sandeep Gupta, director of Riley Hospital for Children's POWER Program and a consultant to the camp, said. "This epidemic can't be addressed in a hospital or doctor's office, it has to be addressed in the community."
Gupta's research on the Forever-Fit camp strategies is scheduled to be published in a scientific journal in a few months.
The six-week camp, staffed in part by dieticians and fitness experts, is sponsored by the Saturday Evening Post Society and Children's Better Health Institute. The camp caters to children aged 8-12 and its $100-per-week cost is often offset by financial assistance.
The SerVaas-founded organizations have plans to build an indoor swimming pool and fitness center on the grounds that already host an outdoor pool, tennis courts, a soccer field, and pens for chickens—the source of the morning's eggs. The Post is also publishing a book for kids on nutrition and fitness.
After breakfast, the campers jog onto the sprawling lawn of the property, first going through an exercise routine and a hike led by IUPUI ROTC members, then breaking into groups for games of tennis and four-square. Two girls rush over to show off a baby frog they found on their hike. Parents routinely walk a mile around the grounds with their kids before they head home at the end of the day. One Mom even stopped by before work to play tennis with her son.
"This keeps him active—and me, too," she said, wiping some sweat from her brow. "The folks here really help us all be aware of fitness and nutrition issues, not as much because it is a weight issue but because it is a lifelong health issue."