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As UMass Amherst tennis players Julia Comas and Gianna Francis read a book about a character who transforms from couch potato to a road race winner, the children in a Head Start classroom in Holyoke, Mass., sat spellbound. Comas and Francis read Henry Gets Moving, which is written in English and Spanish by Pierre Rouzier, a physician at University Health Services, and Chaz Nielsen ’06.
The tennis players were on a community service project, introducing themselves to low-income children as student athletes promoting a book with messages about staying fit and healthy. “The best thing that came out of this was exposing the children to college students and reading in English and Spanish and inspiring them to be active,” says Lisa Brodeur, the Head Start teacher. After the children listened, they joined the tennis players in a dance. In October, a group of UMass football players were also in Holyoke, appearing at a block party where landscape architecture students had designed storyboards for the book.
Rouzier, who serves as the physician to UMass athletes, says he and other members of the team that produced the book, including his son Anthony Rouzier ’09, a former UMass football player, hope UMass athletes will use the book for community outreach programs. Their plan also calls for high-profile athletes and celebrities to donate the book to schools and community organizations. John F. Kennedy ’76G donated 1,000 books for the Head Start program in Holyoke, which also operates in Chicopee and Springfield.
“Our goal is to have kids love Henry and be like Henry and for parents to say we need to be like Henry,” says Rouzier. Nielsen, who now works on campus in the iCons program and is awaiting acceptance to medical school, notes, “What we are really hoping to come out of this is that we create a character who can inspire community health and wellness.”
The tennis players said their mission was accomplished. “Community service with younger kids is more fun because we can interact with them more,” says Comas. And, said Francis, “We really support the message of staying active and eating healthy.”