The Empower Hour program is a partnership between the City of Chula Vista and San Diego Gas & Electric and offers opportunities for children to engage in arts and crafts and games and sports, coupled with lessons about how they can be energy efficient. Led by City of Chula Vista staff, the program supports the health and safety of children by providing families with a free afterschool activity that aligns with the vision of the City of Chula Vista by encouraging children to be active. It is also an example of how cities can help residents be healthy, safe and thriving.
“Empower Hour is dedicated to reaching out to parts of our communities which do not have access to some of our city’s wonderful Recreation Centers," Christian Calvo, an Empower Hour Specialist states. "In an era where our youth have a multitude of indoor entertainment options, our program strives to encourage families to turn off the video game systems, the computers, the televisions, and join us for some fun in the sun. We use Empower Hour's motto as our guidelines towards the structure of our daily scheduled activities...'Play Hard. Eat Well. Save Energy.’"
The Empower Hour offers an alternative opportunity for children to engage in both learning and physical activity, with one scheduled activity in combination with one arts and crafts project, at one of five local parks each week. Children can choose to take part in the scheduled physical activity for the day, or they can choose to engage in their own activity of choice as well. The program also provides safe public spaces for children and parents to enjoy.
In the South Region of San Diego County, Latinos comprise an estimated 60.4% of the population. Hispanic youth aged 2 through 19 have the highest prevalence of obesity at 21.9%, compared to their non-Hispanic Black (19.5%), non-Hispanic white (14.7%), and non-Hispanic Asian (8.6%) counterparts. Locally, over a seven year period with focused policy and programmatic changes, the Chula Vista Elementary School District has seen a 7.4% increase in the normal category, an 8.0% decrease in the overweight category and 17.1% decrease in the obesity category.
Through its focus on outdoor activity and play, the Empower Hour helps children and their families to achieve better health. Empower Hour engages approximately 80 students per week across the five parks. During their special events, they receive approximately 200 attendees. Between January and March 2017, the Empower Hour serviced an estimated 1,071 children and adults.
"Empower Hour strives to help families live healthier lifestyles,” says Calvo. "Our goal is to encourage children to participate at any of our 5 park locations, in efforts to get kids to interact and socialize with each other.”
At Tiffany Park, one of the more popular locations of the program, parents and grandparents of school-aged children recognize the impact of the Empower Hour. Ronda, the grandmother of one young student, was able to see several positive benefits from the program. “It’s another hour of organized physical activity,” she touted. “I think it helped him build friends as well.” Indeed, the program aims for benefit both children’s physical and social aspects as part of a larger lifestyle.
According to Elizabeth Kovar, Recreation Supervisor of Empower Hour, the program aligns with the desired future for the City of Chula Vista. "One of Chula Vista's Strategic Goals is to provide a Connected Community,” she says. “Empower Hour does just that. We encourage the community to play hard, eat well and save energy. Through recreational activities after school, we give these kids the tools to do just that."
While childhood obesity continues to threaten the future health of many young people, the Empower Hour has gained a steady flow of followers at places such as Tiffany Park. As Ronda stated, “I continue to use it, because he [her grandson] loves it.”
The program operates year-round, allowing families to continue taking attending during the summer months. The Empower Hour is hosting Movie Nights in the Park starting on July 1st. For more information about the Empower Hour program, check the City of Chula Vista website, or follow them on Instagram and Facebook.