The healthy habit toolbox

The Neutral Hills Learning and Community Connection Centre is supporting youth to build healthy patterns and practices, thanks to a ChooseWell Healthy Community Grant. The Consort-based non-profit used the grant funds to launch a free after-school program focused on healthy eating, active living and mental health. The project was so successful that the centre is continuing it with new funding, reaching even more youth. “ChooseWell has really done a lot for us. Their grant was the starting point for this youth program to continue — hopefully for many, many years to come,” says Natasha Bozek, executive director of the learning centre.

By Anna Schmidt, 2023


In small towns across the prairies, kids lace skates in winter and pull on baseball gloves in summer. Sports are more than a past-time — they’re a connection to peers, mentors and the larger community.

And yet, for a variety of reasons, there are children and youth not participating in formal athletics.

“We might think that all kids are playing a sport of some kind. But when I looked at actual registrations here, I found only about a third of the kids are involved. We recognized there was a whole other group who needed that connection,” says Natasha Bozek, executive director of the Neutral Hills Learning and Community Connection Centre in Consort, Alberta. The centre offers referral and support services, as well as learning opportunities for residents of all ages.

Natasha and her team set out to bring new activities to the youth of the eastern Alberta village. And, with the help of a $3,400 ChooseWell Healthy Community Grant, they brought their vision to life. This past fall, they launched a free after-school program focused on holistic well-being, using grant funds to bring in nutritious snacks, engaging physical activities and mental health support.

“I really appreciate how supportive ChooseWell is of our work. I’ve built a relationship with the staff and they’re always there to offer help and feedback,” says Natasha.

The new program soon had over a dozen teens and preteens registered. Every Thursday afternoon, they gathered at the Neutral Hills Learning and Community Connection Centre. They learned to make smoothies, protein balls, yogurt bark and other healthy snacks. Other weeks they got active, trying yoga, kick-boxing and meditation classes taught by local experts. The youth also had a visit from service dogs and competed in an “Amazing Race” event around town. The programming all aimed to instill healthy thought patterns and practices, explains Natasha.

“They’re an engaged group and they’re excited to be here,” she says. “They’re not going to remember everything we do, but we’re hoping that we can start building a toolbox so that they can go home and ask for the healthy option. And then they can pass it on to their younger siblings and families as well.”

Some of that change is already apparent, adds Natasha, explaining that youth who were once skeptical of activities like yoga are now eager for the next class.

Beyond the healthy habits, the youth are also building vital social bonds. In December, the group made holiday gift packs with ornaments and cards, then piled on a school bus and delivered them to seniors. Now, the kids are planning to visit the local seniors’ lodge to play cards. “We talked a lot about kindness. In the long-term, we’re connecting them with their community,” says Natasha.

While the ChooseWell grant has been spent, the project was so successful that the Neutral Hills Learning and Community Connection Centre sought new funding to continue the after-school program. It’s now scheduled to run until the end of the school year.

“It went so well that we have interest from new kids,” says Natasha. “ChooseWell has really done a lot for us. Their grant was the starting point for this youth program to continue — hopefully for many, many years to come.”