You have questions, we have answers. This month we spoke with Lisa Burrows, the executive director of GoodLife Kids Foundation, about fighting childhood obesity.
CS: How did GoodLife Kids Foundation come about and what is its purpose?
LB: In the late 90s, physical inactivity in kids was just starting to make headlines as a health issue. GoodLife Fitness founder and CEO David “Patch” Patchell-Evans was seeing signs of a growing number of inactive Canadian kids. He recognized that kids were missing out on the many physical and mental health benefits of being active. The question of how GoodLife Fitness could make an impact on the lives of kids was the driving force to start GoodLife Kids Foundation.
I recall early on that Patch said, “If we could get just one more kid active, that in itself would be impactful.” At GoodLife Kids Foundation, we continue to expand our reach in communities across the country. To date, we have impacted the lives of over 240,000 Canadian kids through physical activity opportunities.
CS: What are some of the foundation’s achievements you’re really proud of?
LB: It should be no surprise that GoodLife Fitness Associates, with their passion for fitness, would get behind GoodLife Kids Foundation. We are so proud of how they have connected with the foundation’s cause, particularly through our national fundraiser: Spin4Kids.
Our signature fundraising event, Spin4Kids, has truly been a tipping point for our organization. The idea for the event came from a GoodLife Associate in St. John’s Newfoundland and has since grown into a national fundraiser that raised over $1 million in 2016. This event has been instrumental in spurring growth opportunities to help get more kids active across Canada.
While we measure our impact in part through the number of children our programs reach, some of the greatest feedback we get is in the form of stories and testimonials. We hear from teachers that their class has been re-energized with the introduction of fitness activities. We hear about how our program has helped a student come out of their shell and grow in their self-confidence. We hear from parents of a child with a disability who never thought they would see their child thriving in physical activity the way the have through a program that we’ve supported. These types of stories illustrate the great difference that our programs can make in the lives of children. There is something very special about knowing that you are helping set a child up for success and a healthier, happier life.
CS: What is a challenge you’ve had to come at the foundation and how have you overcome it?
LB: One of the challenges that we face as a charity is that our programs rely on fundraising. While people are generally very supportive of causes with a focus on children, physical inactivity as a health issue does not carry the same weight in the minds of donors as many competing issues such as heart disease, juvenile diabetes or cancer. The consequences of physical inactivity are not always as pronounced or immediate, so we sometimes struggle to convey the level of urgency required to incite donations.
We are fortunate that our primary stakeholders are very aware of the benefits of physical activity that helps them understand our cause. Our biggest supporters are living physically active lives and are passionate about encouraging others of all ages to do the same.
CS: What is your vision forGoodLife Kids Foundation? What do you hope to achieve?
LB: We are proud that our programs that are providing opportunities for kids to get active in ways that extend beyond the typical scope of sport. There are very few organizations that are supporting physical activity opportunities for kids with special needs by providing dedicated funding — this is the focus of our Grant Program. Though several school-based programs exist, our GoodLife4Kids School Program is unique. We operate a partnership model with local teachers, providing engaging fitness instruction throughout the school year (all at no cost to the schools). As a charity, GoodLife Kids Foundation reflects the entrepreneurial attitude of GoodLife Fitness.
Our purpose is to provide every Canadian kid with the opportunity to live a fit and healthy good life and we will continue to pursue that vision through our initiatives now and in the future.
CS: Is there any advice you can provide health clubs on how they can positively impact youth fitness in their communities?
LB: There are a number of ways a health club can positively impact child fitness – it comes down to what works best for your business model. Consider the need in your own community as well as who will manage the initiative to ensure it is successful.
- You/your staff could volunteer time/talent to support community based programs
- Your company could provide financial support to a charity that is helping kids get active
- Consider whether adding child/youth programming to your offerings might fit your business model – how might it fit in with your adult membership?
If you’re looking to take your commitment to child/youth fitness and physical activity to the next level, it might make sense to start a non-profit of your own, similar to what we have here at GoodLife Kids Foundation. If you are considering this direction you will want to think about how it will be managed, developing a business plan based on your vision, and connecting with your charity regulator to determine what is required in order to run a non-profit. Look at this initiative as starting another business.
No matter which path you choose, your work with children/youth can help develop healthy habits at a young age and inspire a lifelong love of physical activity and fitness – and that is an impact certainly worth the effort!