Saturday January 16 2021
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Creating Healthy Futures

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The wall-mounted flat-screen televisions' volume blares above the whir of treadmills and slamming of iron weights. The combined sounds of excited voices, exercise machines and electric beeps and buzzes reveal a scene of heightened physical activity.

It's a setting is not unlike any other fitness center or gym, with a few “small” exceptions. It's not ESPN's SportsCenter emanating from the TVs... it's Nickelodeon's “Ned's Declassified.” And the treadmills, ellipticals, exercise bikes and weight machines all seem a little small. In fact, so are the people on the machines.

Welcome to a typical afternoon at the Children's Fitness Center in Salem, Ohio.

The fitness center, located within the Salem Community Center, opened last November to improve the health and wellness of children between the ages of 6-15, ingraining healthy lifestyles that will carry over to adulthood.

The children's fitness center has treadmills, ellipticals, bikes ans strength machines similar to that of any adult gym, but sized and designed specifically for children. The center also offers equipment such as Wii, Motion Fitness Xbox and stepper gaming systems to make exercise more fun for the kids. The program is not limited to exercise, but also includes education on the proper use of equipment and the importance of exercise and nutrition. Interested parents are also educated and kept up-to-date on their children's progress.

The unique program was the brainchild of Heather Young, executive director of the Salem Community Center. While her center offered some services for kids 6-12, they were mostly limited to toddler swimming, or baby-sitting and child-care while their parents worked out. Young noticed that some children of a certain age were falling through the cracks in terms of exercise options.

“The 6-12 age group is a little old to need the baby-sitting and child care we offer here, but not old enough to be on their own at the pool or basketball court,” she explained. “So that age became a real target area. They do have the physical ability and mental ability to do certain things, but we have to keep it on their level.”

Young researched equipment available for kids of that age, put together a budget, and secured funding for equipment purchase, programming costs and staffing.

The program hit a bulls-eye with its target audience.

More than 600 children went through the program in the first two months—mostly just from the center's existing membership, and field trips were organized with local elementary schools, with over 1,300 students in grades 1-6 visiting the center.

Dan Scarpitti, Wellness Director at the center, oversees the daily operation of the children's fitness center. He's been amazed at how the younger kids have bought into the program.

“They've seen these machines before, but they've never been allowed to use them. They see Mom and Dad, or their older siblings working out on the same machines, and they think, 'Oh I want to do that too,'” Scarpitti said. “They take it very seriously.”

Seeing kids who didn't use to exercise become committed to physical fitness—especially if it continues for the long-term—is the ultimate goal of the program.

“If you're not competitive in traditional organized sports, this gives you something you can be competitive at,” Young said. “It provides tangible progress, and that keeps them coming back. And if you make physical fitness a habit at a young age, there's a better chance it will become a part of their adult life as well.”

Learn more about the Children's Fitness Center at the Salem Community Center!

The Salem Community Foundation’s matching $50,000 is a major commitment of support to the people of the community and to the Salem Community Center.  Improving the health and wellness of community youth strengthens the future capacity of Salem and the surrounding areas to better compete in the global economy. The Salem Community Foundation is a public non-profit charitable trust with a mission to improve the quality of life in Salem and the immediate area.

The Ohio Mid-Eastern Governments Association is a collaborative body of member governments that serves as a facilitator between state and federal government agencies and local entities to provide opportunities in economic and community development through networking, education, planning, research, and allocation of resources.

The Pearce Foundation is operated exclusively for charitable and educational grant purposes for tax exempt organizations in the city of Salem and the surrounding communities.

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