Wednesday, April 15, 2009
by Andrew Ujifusa | Staff Writer
Early Thursday morning, what appeared to be a first cousin of the Philly Phanatic knocked on Lucy and Caroline Stetson's front door in Bethesda. But instead of leading cheers for the Philadelphia Phillies baseball team, "Gomer" was there to perform a surprise home and health inspection.
The inspection, which included checking to make sure the two girls were making their beds, keeping their camp gear organized and eating a nutritious breakfast, was part of a program put on by the Headfirst sports camp the two girls attended during spring break, designed to help kids lead more disciplined and healthy lifestyles.
Armed with two check lists, Gomer and Headfirst Executive Director Rob Elwood roamed the house, checking on the neatness of the two girls' rooms, looking into the refrigerator to see if they could confirm the girls' reported breakfast of "Toast, yogurt, oranges and some milk," and also asking their parents Catherine Stetson and John Faust if they have been cooperative and thankful for their parents' support in recent days.
"They have absolutely been team players this week," Stetson proudly told Elwood, much to Gomer's emphatic approval.
While Elwood did the quizzing, Gomer provided the gesticulations and antics to lighten the mood, at one point trying to guzzle a bottle of water the girls had prepared for a day at Headfirst's soccer program during spring break.
If the inspection was satisfactory, Lucy and Caroline received a gift fit for professional athletes: a ride in a stretch limousine to the camp, with Gomer (too big to squeeze into the seats) sprawled on the floor and ready to provide more mascot entertainment.
While the connection between such inspections and the corner kick may not obvious at first, Elwood said learning sports the right way should teach the campers valuable skills that translate into everyday life.
Specifically, he is interested in whether the campers are learning responsibility, organization skills, and other abilities that are "easily within our control." The idea is to make sure these traits transfer to school work, hobbies and elsewhere.
"We feel as though if you're able to do those little things that are so important in life, those things will become contagious," said Elwood.
He views the life skills taught by staff at Headfirst as providing a support system for parents trying to teach positive values to children. Sometimes, he said, parents simply need a little help.
Rebecca Kullback, a social worker with Metropolitan Counseling Associates in Bethesda who works with young people, said having the message be given by someone other than a "primary caregiver" is useful in a wide variety of situations, including difficult situations with teenagers as well as younger children.
"I think having it be somebody outside that role gives it a different type of credibility," said Kullback. "These are also people kids respect and want to emulate."
Stetson agrees, even though she said Lucy and Caroline don't have problems keeping themselves organized and listening to their parents.
"It's a reinforcing mechanism," she said. "Even a short camp containing those lessons in a different forum from a different speaker…might get through to a child who has stopped listening to those lessons in a more traditional forum."
Whether Lucy and Caroline needed the extra attention or not, they passed the inspection with flying colors, and hustled out to the limousine with Gomer and drove off.
"Lucy described it as the best day ever," Stetson said.