“I’m in a safe place right now. I’m in a safe place right now,” sings a group of preschool and kindergarteners to the tune of “Happy Birthday.” “I’m in a safe place right now, and lots of people love me!” Their voices land emphatically on the last note, as they give themselves a squeeze. This young group of crooners is participating in PEACH, an initiative created by the National Center on Family Homelessness (National Center) in an effort to bring more child-friendly programming into shelters.
PEACH, which stands for Physical and Emotional Awareness for Children Who Are Homeless, teaches children and their parents about good nutrition, physical activity, and how to deal with the stress of being homeless. “Homelessness takes a toll on children. They are sick more often and have more mental health problems. Sadly, resources to address these problems are limited,” says Dr. Ellen Bassuk, President of the National Center. “The PEACH initiative is one way to support children and parents, and the providers who work with them daily.”
The program is based on the award-winning OrganWise Guys curriculum, which the National Center adapted for shelter settings. The OrganWise Guys are fanciful characters representing the organs in the body. Hardy Heart® teaches children how their hearts need love, kindness, and plenty of exercise to stay healthy. Calci M. Bone is also enthusiastic about exercise, almost as much as she is about eating bone healthy foods such as yogurt and milk. Pepto® the Stomach understands that kids need to fruits and veggies, and he also sometimes gets “butterflys” when he’s nervous. These characters and the other OrganWise Guys come to life for children through interactive and engaging materials, including books, videos, activities, and more.
PEACH is divided into 17 sessions that last for about 45-60 minutes. Each session follows a consistent, predictable format that helps children feel at ease. It also accommodates the high turnover of families in shelter settings; each session is broad enough for new children to understand and participate, and engaging enough for children who attend regularly.
At the heart of the PEACH curriculum are sessions on emotional health, specifically designed to help children living in shelters understand their bodies’ reactions to traumatic stress and what to do about it. These sessions help children identify and feel comfortable with a range of emotions and learn strategies that help them feel safe.
PEACH is being implemented in hundreds of shelters, health centers, and other community-based agencies around the country. “Children are more aware of their bodies and how they react to things,” describes one service provider. “It is simply a very good program,” says another.
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