It’s a Wednesday evening and more than a dozen girls are twirling hula hoops, jumping rope and tossing a basketball at the Brian Coyle Center in Minneapolis.
The girls are taking part in a sports program started a few years ago and still led by Fatimah Hussein as a way to provide culturally appropriate physical activity for Muslim/East African girls in the Cedar-Riverside community.
It has developed into a joint effort supported by several community organizations, including the Somali American Youth Enrichment Club, the University of Minnesota, Cedar Riverside Community School and Fairview Health Services.
It’s connected to Fit & Friendly, a Fairview-sponsored initiative that seeks to help young people establish healthy lifestyles early on through regular physical activity and healthy eating. An active lifestyle and healthy eating can help prevent obesity and chronic illness.
“It’s really fun—it’s like a big family,” says Kokhobalem “Kokho” Haile, a teenager who has taken part since sixth grade. The weekly exercise program has made her more fit, she adds. “Before this, girls weren’t really able to play sports.”
Most of the girls wear head scarves and long skirts for religious modesty—and that can sometimes make exercise difficult. That’s why female-only exercise sessions are held in a closed gym at the center.
Fairview and our corporate and community partners have provided support which has made a big difference in sustaining and expanding the exercise program, says Jennifer Weber, who has been the volunteer coach of the girls’ program for the past four years.
More than 50 girls now take part in the program, says Hiba Sharif, Fairview Community Health outreach coordinator at University of Minnesota Medical Center. Wednesday sessions are geared for girls in fifth through ninth grades, while Sunday sessions are for girls in high school and even attract some in college.
“The younger we get the girls involved in athletics and being healthy and knowing how to play sports, the more likely they are to stay with it,” says Jennifer.
Other components include nutrition classes, swimming lessons and equipment for boys’ sports tournaments.