Active kids are measurably healthier and higher achieving than their sedentary counterparts, which makes the high cost of youth sports and dwindling of school PE programs nationwide worrisome. Thanks to Ashley Hunter and her The Fit Kids Foundation (fitkids.org) students in many underserved communities are building stronger bodies and brighter futures. The Menlo Park resident founded Fit Kids in 2011, two days after reading an article about sports programs becoming unaffordable for many youth in neighboring East Palo Alto (where the median household income is less than half of Menlo Park’s $132,000 a year.) “It was one of those ‘aha!’ moments,” says Hunter, a former investment banking analyst, avid athlete and cancer survivor. The mother of four also co-founded the Circle of Friends, now Ambassadors for Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital.
As the 2019-20 school year gets underway, 15,000 kindergarten through eighth grade students at 75 community organizations and schools will benefit from the Fit Kids program. Early on, Hunter observed that many kids hadn’t even learned to jump rope, let alone play sports, so the program focuses on fundamental fitness, motor skills and social-emotional skills through fun exercises and games. Corporate, foundation and individual donations ensure the program is free to qualified sites, including three East Palo Alto “Innovation Sites” staffed with Fit Kids coaches. Others can purchase the program at a discounted rate of $2,500.
The nonprofit’s first fundraising luncheon last spring at Sharon Heights Country Club featured special guests Chynna Phillips and Billy Baldwin. “The lunch sold out before we even had a chance to print invitations,” says event co-chair Carson Eltoukhy. Among the
VIP attendees: Olympic medalist Anne Warner Cribbs, head of the Bay Area Sports Organizing Committee, which aims to team up with Fit Kids. “The original goal of the Olympic charter is to educate youth through sport to build a better and more peaceful world,” says Cribbs, “so [Fit Kids’ mission] fits right in with what we’ve been doing for the last 25 years.”
Fit Kids is expanding nationally, with 20 programs in Los Angeles this year and others in Houston and Las Vegas; applications from six Chicago schools are pending. The organization’s goal is “go big,” says Hunter, but she’s embracing a slow-and-steady-wins-the-race approach. “I’d rather take my time and grow slowly and make sure I’m doing a good job with these kids,” she says. “We make a big impact on the kids we do work with, which is why I’m doing this.”