Families, fun big part of health fair

ESCANABA – The Ruth Butler Building at the U.P. State Fairgrounds in Escanaba was buzzing Sunday as families flocked to the Daily Press Children’s Back-to-School and Health Fair.

The annual event, now in its fifth year, began as a way for families to stay current on immunization requirements. Just like in past years, families could have immunizations done at the event at a reasonable cost.

“We’ve offered it to some adults,” said Nancy Wahl, clerical supervisor for Public Health – Delta and Menominee Counties, who noted that last year immunization updates were for sixth graders. A change this year to immunizations for seventh graders meant many who attended the fair last year were already up to date.

Immunizations were the only item with a cost at the fair, but other fair participants were just as focused on keeping kids healthy.

New this year to the fair was the Lions Club sponsored Project KidsSight program.

“Our digital screener in less than one second takes 18 pictures of the eye and tells us if they’re within range for their age. So the biggest thing is we enter if they’re male or female and their date of birth, and we can do (screenings for people) six months to 100 years old,” said Jenny Ware of the District 10 Lions.

Children – and a few adults – were scanned with the device. If the instant readings suggested that their eyes were out of range for their age, they were advised to see an eye doctor.

Children received a different kind of protection from the Michigan Child ID Program presented by the Delta and Gladstone Masonic lodges. In about 10 minutes, children who went through the program had a “Child ID Package” containing a photo ID card, digital fingerprints, a recorded interview that captured vocal patterns and mannerisms, dental impressions, and a DNA sample.

“We have no record (of this). The only record goes to the parents, and this is good no matter where you go. So if you’re on vacation in California you can take it with you,” said Eric Nyman, a Mason with the Delta Lodge 195 of Free and Accepted Masons.

Other participating groups looked towards children’s teen years when it came to safety. AAA Driver Training had two spaces at the event – one indoors and one outdoors – that stressed the dangers of distracted driving.

Inside the Ruth Butler Building, children took turns on a driving simulator that included pedestrians, talking passengers, deer, traffic lights, other vehicles, and police officers. If a child failed the simulation they learned how their distracted mistakes driving could have affected their lives if they had happened in the real world.

“What it will do is basically have you go to court, tell you how much it’s going to cost you, or if you’re going to have jail time because you hit somebody, and the possible financial penalties,” said Sandy Maxwell, director for the AAA Driver Training Program.

Outside children drove golf carts on an obstacle course with and without punching numbers into a calculator to simulate cell phone use while driving.

Staying safe was a major focus of the event, but staying healthy and fit was just as important. Some booths offered healthy snacks, while others had activities that kept kids moving.

For the Delta County RICC (Regional Inclusive Community Coalition), the focus was on empathy. Their “Walk a Mile In My Shoes” program allowed children to get a taste of what life is like with a disability. Children used adaptive equipment like special tricycles, wheelchairs, and crutches and tried performing tasks while simulating a disability.

“It’s so they understand, ‘you know what? it’s not easy,’ – just so they become more empathetic,” said Brenda Crow, diversity coordinator for Delta County RICC.

Some of the events at the fair were purely for fun. Kids got to design paper masks, have their faces painted, and try their hand at putting golf balls. Families enjoyed free pizza – and football players from local high schools ate more than their share of hot dogs.

The local athletes took to the stage in a hot dog eating contest to support their local fan clubs. In three rounds of five minutes each, the football players tried to eat as many hot dogs as possible. Escanaba won the event, with their players wolfing down 40 hot dogs and earning $500 for their fan club; Rapid River came in second with 33 hot dogs and $300; and Gladstone came in third with 32 hot dogs, taking home $200.