Will Smith drops into healthy hoops event

Posted: July 22, 2012

About 750 Philadelphia-area children who came to have their heights, weights, and blood pressures taken on Saturday morning were treated to much more entertainment than a routine visit to a doctor's office might include - face paint, basketball drills with professional coaches, a game show, and a surprise appearance by actor Will Smith.

Smith drew cheers from the children who crowded around him at the Healthy Hoops event by reciting the first line of the theme song of his 1990s television show "The Fresh Prince of Bel Air" - "In West Philadelphia born and raised."

"When I was I guess about your age," he said, pointing to a young girl who squealed with excitement, "I guess it was really scary to go to the doctor."

Healthy Hoops, run by the AmeriHealth Mercy Foundation and Keystone Mercy Health Plan, aimed to take the fear out of doctor's visits.

"A few of the kids are scared," said Kathy House, a nurse who volunteered to take children's blood pressure. "I just tell them it's going to give their arm a bear hug."

The event removed other obstacles that prevent families from visiting their primary care physicians too, said Tonya Moody, one of the organizers, by offering free bus transportation from 15 points in and around Philadelphia to the fair and making Spanish-speaking interpreters available.

The two focuses of the 9th annual event, held in the Michael J. Hagan Arena at St. Joseph's University, were obesity and asthma in children.

"We took a look at our data within our area and the community, and when we looked at that data, we realized there were gaps in care," Moody said about those two conditions, noting that families were not "taking any preventative measures." By sending children home with information on healthy diets and asthma management, she said, Keystone Mercy hopes to see its patients rely more on preventative care and less on emergency room visits.

Smith and his son, Jaden were in town this weekend to attend an event to celebrate philanthropist and activist Charles "Charlie Mack" Alston's annual Party For Peace Weekend to honor outstanding Philadelphia youth and benefit his non-profit, the Charlie Mack Cares Center. Alston is Smith's longtime friend and former bodyguard.

Contact staff writer Julie Zauzmer at 215-854-2771 or jzauzmer@philly.com.

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