In December, the Atlanta Falcons Youth Foundation awarded $400,000 over three years to the Boys & Girls Clubs of Hall County for its fitness program “Club Fit,” but that amount is not on par with funding the club has leveraged in the past, club officials said.
While the funding will sustain the program, it doesn’t allow the club to serve as many children and schools as it would like, Chief Professional Officer Steven Mickens said.
“We’re always trying to leverage funding to run a program. We’re running it now, but it’s at a scaled-down version,” he said.
In 2006, the Falcons donated $1 million to the program, and in 2010, another $1 million was allocated by a federal education grant, which expired at the end of June, Mickens said.
“Ideally, we want to expand; we want to grow. There have been numerous schools that have contacted us to see if we can run the program in their school. But it’s been impossible because of staffing,” he said, noting that funds primarily go to staffing costs.
The organization does currently partner with multiple schools — Fair Street, Gainesville Exploration Academy and Lyman Hall — to run programs during the school day, in addition to after-school programs.
The Club Fit program is in keeping with the club’s core philosophies of leading a healthy lifestyle, he explained.
The goal: to impart a comprehensive, holistic education and application of nutrition and physical fitness.
The nutrition aspect of Club Fit is about informing and educating kids, and the fitness side provides an avenue to accommodate and supervise activities that keep children moving.
“It’s the day-to-day physical fitness activities. It can range from playing basketball in the gym to playing soccer, relay races, to different types of physical fitness games that keep kids moving for 45 minutes,” he said.
On a Tuesday after school at the club headquarters in Gainesville, a group of mostly girls cheerfully played hockey on the basketball courts while a staffer refereed.
Mickens said the club accommodates the children who don’t necessarily want to compete.
“If you’re not going to play, you’re going to participate in some form or fashion. So if for instance we’re playing basketball, but you’re too embarrassed to play, you can be the referee and run up and down the court calling fouls. Or you can be the ball boy or ball girl,” he said. “A lot of the time it’s about keeping kids moving without them realizing.”
The increasing importance of standardized tests, Mickens said, may be partially to blame for less emphasis in school on physical exercise.
“Schools are now really crunched to focus on (criterion-referenced competency tests) — standardized tests — and I think some of these other subjects took a hit, such as (physical education). When you look at PE, it took a hit across the country, and across the state,” he said. “It’s taken a hit, and we have more and more obese children. We didn’t look at the problem strategically, so we’re trying to address it now.”
And physicality crosses over to academic success, Mickens emphasized.
“Statistics show that kids who are more physically fit and have active lifestyles are more successful in school,” he said.
As obesity continues to remain a nationwide epidemic, the dialogue for battling it is ongoing.
“I was just in an interview today with local leaders about how are we going to meet the physical fitness concerns in our community,” Mickens said Tuesday.
And it has become increasingly evident that promoting fitness and nutrition at a young age is imperative, he said.
Noting the program’s impact, he cited that Club Fit helped more than 2,500 kids get those 45 minutes of physical activity each day last year.
“I think we’re doing a pretty good job of that, but we wish we could do more, obviously,” he said.