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Treinen: Finding a happy hour in a time of sadness (column)

4:16 PM, Apr. 19, 2013  |  Comments
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Aaron Ruff's presentation Friday morning was loaded with irony, considering the events unfolding 1,250 miles away.

Ruff, who works for the Marathon County Health Department, spoke to a crowded room about a year-old initiative called The Real Happy Hour that is aimed at encouraging local families to spend more time together. His talk was a key part of the Healthy Marathon County coalition's annual spring meeting, held in the county offices along River Drive in downtown Wausau.

It was Ruff himself who noted one of the obvious ironies, that a fresh snowfall was coating the ground during this "spring" event.

But a more somber twist on this occasion was underway.

While Ruff spoke, it wasn't happy hour that forced tens of thousands of families in the Boston area to huddle together in their homes as authorities conducted a massive manhunt for a bombing suspect considered armed and highly dangerous. News that one of the Boston Marathon bombing suspects had been killed and the other was on the loose still was developing as Ruff laid out the full scope of The Real Happy Hour and its successes so far.

No one in the room seemed to be distracted, though, not even those few journalists in the room. All eyes and ears were tuned in to the presentation, not just because it was accompanied by a captivating digital slideshow, but also because the project itself has been impressive.

We learned that since its launch in April 2012, The Real Happy Hour has engaged numerous community groups who are finding their own ways to encourage more family time, including a special emphasis on sharing meals together. It's a research-supported concept that simply eating and playing together as a family can significantly reduce the odds of obesity and substance abuse among children.

To support the cause, the Marathon County Hunger Coalition has developed a Family Mealtime Toolkit with some really good ideas about how to literally get everyone at the table, eat healthy meals that don't cost a ton and more naturally get in some of that "quality time" everyone wants but has a hard time finding.

Linda Koepke from Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northcentral Wisconsin shared a story about the difference she had made for one of her family's "littles" just by inviting him over for dinner once a week. The child's own family has seven kids but lacked even a kitchen table to eat around.

The local Girl Scouts council is developing a new "Real Happy Hour" patch that members can earn through various family-oriented activities.

The Wausau/Marathon County Parks Department is incorporating the initiative in its programs to inspire more families to get out and active at the county's many parks and recreation areas.

And there were many other examples.

The presentation managed to spread happy news at the end of a week bombarded with terrifying, tragic events. An important message also emerged from the meeting: People dedicated to the cause of improving life around them can work through moments of sadness and distress and continue on the mission. That's true on an individual level, and on a national scale.

To find out more about The Real Happy Hour and the Family Mealtime Toolkit, go to www.therealhappyhour.org. The Real Happy Hour also can be found on Facebook, and on Twitter as @Real_HappyHour.

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