Above, Michaela and other teen volunteers help campers make granola. Below, Michaela pauses for a portrait.(Angela Cave photos)
Above, Michaela and other teen volunteers help campers make granola. Below, Michaela pauses for a portrait.(Angela Cave photos)
A dozen grade-schoolers wobbled and grinned as they balanced on one leg and arched their arms over their heads, heeding a peer yoga instructor. Twenty feet away, in the parish center kitchen at St. Michael the Archangel parish in Troy, more children scooped oats and squeezed honey to make nutritious granola bars.

During the parish's five-day "Fun, Food and Fitness" summer camp, participants took a trip to a Price Chopper supermarket for a nutrition values scavenger hunt, decorated aprons and tried Zumba and children's fitness videos.

They heard from a nutritionist and a nurse and played health-themed games. They made healthy snacks like fruit and vegetable dips using yogurt and a "dinosaur" created from a bagel half, carrots, green beans and melon triangles.

Scout, leader
All of this was spearheaded by Michaela Omecinsky, a 17-year-old parishioner and incoming senior at Averill Park High School. She's working toward her Girl Scout Gold Award, the highest award in scouting.

Her goal, she said, was to "teach kids how to make healthier food choices, get kids cooking and expose them to new games and new activities. Exercising isn't about sports; it's about moving."

Michaela runs track and cross-country at school and learned from an early age the right way to eat: "Junk food for me was, like, pretzels," she said with a laugh. But she's watched classmates and even fellow athletes eating pre-packaged food and downing "three bags of chips" as dinner.

Creating a camp to combat some of these habits came naturally to the teen: She's been a counselor at Girl Scout camps and parish day camps.

Research on the internet and conversations with her health teacher and St. Michael's parishioners who work in health care revealed that more than a third of U.S. children and young adults were overweight or obese in 2010.

"Kids don't eat very healthy," Michaela noted. "We just grab whatever's quickest. Parents try to do their best," but sometimes adults aren't well-educated on nutrition, either.

High scores
The Price Chopper nutritionist taught the campers about the store's nutritional scoring system and the USDA's MyPlate initiative, which Michaela criticized for not addressing oils and sweets. "Most kids eat a lot of [those]," so they should be discussed, she said.

The kids were eager to make shopping lists with their parents and pass information on nutrition to their families. During snack time, they even tried foods they thought were unappealing, like peppers and hummus. "A fair amount of them discovered they like" those foods, Michaela said.

She and a dozen teen volunteers, many of whom are St. Michael's confirmation candidates, led the 18 campers in food-themed lessons and relay races and even painting with spaghetti.

Michaela rode her bike often when she was younger. She believes today's children don't consider outdoor play their first option - but she said "people exaggerate" about the laziness of the generation.

"I do think electronics are a problem," she said. "Maybe they aren't as active as their parents or grandparents, but they do activities" like sports and games at school recess. "Parents really just have to be the ones to say, 'Turn it off.' Kids just need time to be kids."

She added: "Parents can play a bigger part by encouraging their kids to cook with them."

Michaela is a parish council teen representative and a faith formation committee member. She's considering nursing or law as careers.

The Girl Scout said the camp will continue. She's already learned that "kids do learn best through games. Children listen to me [and] I'm not afraid to take charge of a situation."