Jim Stringfellow: Taking on obesity and delinquency


Published: Monday, April 8, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, April 5, 2013 at 7:09 p.m.

His name is Matt Howland. Matt is a young former teacher who, a little over a year ago, began noticing and becoming concerned about overweight kids in school.

But nobody, no program, either in school or out of school, was doing anything about it.

Matt formed a 501(c)3 organization called Youth Combine that now serves hundreds of area kids, both overweight and normal weight, all seeking a low-cost way to get organized athletic activity after school.

Matt operates Youth Combine year-long, five afternoons a week, primarily centered at Westwood Middle School. General fitness, cross country track, even Olympic weightlifting and low-level gymnastics are provided to those who can pay $20. Free scholarships are given to those who cannot pay.

His mission is to empower the children with the values of hard work, dedication and responsibility through high-intensity training and fitness education. He believes that empowering youth with these values will help produce productive and contributing members of society in adulthood while at the same time taking on the challenge of eliminating childhood obesity and juvenile delinquency.

Childhood obesity in the U.S. has more than tripled in the last 30 years, while organized physical activity time has diminished. Contrarily, exposure to sedentary activities like watching television, using the computer and playing video games has increased.

In fact, the U.S. Department of Health states that almost 25 percent of a child's waking hours are spent in front of a television and only 39 percent of children between the ages of 9 and 13 participate in organized physical activity after school. The U.S. Office of Juvenile Justice states that juvenile offenses occur most frequently between the hours of 3:30 and 6:30 p.m. and that programs designed to prevent juvenile delinquency would be most effective if they occurred directly after school.

What impresses me especially about Matt is that he started this program virtually without a nickel. He is now gaining some financial support as our citizenry learns more about his program's success but the growing program still needs plenty of support.

Matt, my check is in the mail. You already have my thanks and respect.

Jim Stringfellow lives in Gainesville. For more information visit www.youthcombine.org.

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