Grant program looks for more Upstate applicants

A micro-grant program aimed at funding programs that combat childhood obesity is seeking a wider of pool of applicants in its third year, and is specifically hoping to hear from areas Upstate.

The UnitedHealth HEROES grants are awarded in amounts ranging from $500 to $1,000 to efforts by schools and community groups to educate, fight and prevent the childhood obesity epidemic.

The grants are administered by Youth Service America, a nonprofit organization, along with UnitedHealthcare, which bankrolls the program and also takes part in the selection process.

Last year, the program awarded $182,890 in grants to 267 groups. $7,100 worth went to 12 groups in New York. They were almost all in or near New York City, though, and program organizers are hoping to see more Upstate participation this time around.

"We don't get so many. I don't know why," said Mary McElrath-Jones, a spokesperson for UnitedHealthcare. "I can tell you from what we're seeing in other states and even from Downstate, a lot of elementary schools and even middle and high schools find it to be a great grant."

The range of programs eligible for the microgrants is really limitless, she said. The conditions are that the primary volunteers be 5 to 25 years of age, with most of the work on the project taking place in January to April 2011.

Programs that are already in place but want to do more are also eligible.

In the past, programs have varied from the planting of community gardens to introducing a semester on health and fitness to elementary schools, with students producing a DVD at the end of the program.

"A lot of schools have created some fabulous programs," McElrath-Jones said. "I think it's a perfect opportunity for kids to get involved in the process."

The cutoff for applications is Oct. 27, and winners will be notified in December and January. Applications and more information are available at www.yfa.org/heroes.""

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