Gymtopia
Angels’ advocate

Gymtopia founder Ray Algar presents two international projects that are making a real difference to the lives of people far beyond the walls of the health club

By Ray Algar | Published in Leisure Management 2016 issue 1


Gymtopia: a place where clubs do social good

 

Ray Algar
 

Ray Algar launched Gymtopia in 2013, a website that gathers stories that show different ways the health and fitness industry is giving back to its local communities. The idea came after Algar heard about a project in Brazil where gym members could donate their old sports shoes to Symap, a charity that helps get poor children into sports. Since its launch, Gymtopia has given a platform to numerous projects that have fought against animal cruelty, climate change and poverty; promoted education, healthy eating and fitness; or funded clothing and shelter or medical research.

Read more stories and submit your own: www.Gymtopia.org


CASE STUDY ONE - Walking alongside a community

Ray Algar reports on a remarkable club in Canada that’s enriching the lives of Ethiopians – on a long-term basis

I want to share the remarkable story of how the independent Fifth Avenue Club in Calgary, Canada, is making a nine-year commitment to support the growth of communities in the Belo region of western Ethiopia.

Why tell this story?
What appealed to me about this project was the long-term nature of the club’s support for Food for the Hungry, its chosen Canadian charity partner.

Darren Kanwischer, owner of the Fifth Avenue Club, had noticed the tendency for some gyms to approach charity as a one-time short-term event, whereas he wanted to forge a long-term partnership that could make a meaningful and enduring impact, touching thousands of lives.

It started over a coffee
Kanwischer became aware of Food for the Hungry and its work across Africa through the club’s coffee supplier, and was drawn to the idea of ‘adopting’ the Belo community as part of a sustainable development project.

The purpose of Food for the Hungry is to end poverty one community at a time, and the charity achieves this by ‘walking alongside’ a community. ‘Walking alongside’ means the charity doesn’t believe in short-term handouts, but instead works to understand the root causes of poverty and commits to support a community for about 10 years, after which it should be self-sustaining. It seeks donor partners who believe in this long-term approach and are able to support the funding of health, sanitation, food security, education and local leadership.

Friendliest club in town
Since the 1,440sq m Fifth Avenue Club opened in 2006, it has focused on becoming the friendliest fitness venue in the city. Calgary itself is the largest city in the province of Alberta, with a population of 1.1 million at the 2011 census. It’s a prospering city that has attracted many of Canada’s largest companies, so residents can choose from many different club brands: GoodLife Fitness operates nearby, as do Anytime Fitness, a number of specialist studios, CrossFit and many other fitness providers.‘Friendly’ and ‘supportive’ are therefore two important attributes for this 700-member club as competition intensifies and people make their club choice.

Every member counts
Since 2007, three dollars of every member’s monthly membership subscription is donated to Food for the Hungry. These compound over the years, which means this one club has so far donated more than C$250,000.

Members and staff fundraise on top of this via sponsored runs, and the club also donates proceeds when replacing gym equipment. This partnership has become a part of the club’s story and features prominently on its website.

“I love that Fifth Avenue Club is not only making a difference here in Calgary, but also changing lives on the other side of the globe in Belo,” says Kanwischer.

A personal investment
Long-term partnerships like this only work when owners, staff and members feel a genuine connection with the project, which in this case is separated by more than 8,000 miles. Kanwischer has personally visited the region four times and so is able to report back first-hand on the difference the club is making, along with mid- and full-year updates from the charity. Kanwischer’s family has also been personally sponsoring a child from the area for many years.

Making a difference
The club will continue its support of the Belo community through to its ‘graduation’ in December 2016 – the point at which the community is untethered from ‘charity’ and deemed to be self-sufficient. Food for the Hungry characterises this as being this point at which the charity is able to transition from being the ‘coach’ to watching from the sidelines.

When this stage is reached, more children will be flourishing in school, proudly wearing their new school uniforms and possessing all the materials necessary for learning. New water points will not only be providing fresh drinking water, but their close proximity will also mean time previously spent walking for water can now be reclaimed and better invested in activities such as farming, education and also just joyful play. Counselling will at this point be available on HIV/AIDS awareness, food nutrition, women’s rights, child marriages and much more, creating a virtuous spiral.

And all this will have been achieved because a health club bothered to care some 8,000 miles away. In all, Fifth Avenue Club and other donors are helping transform the lives of more than 40,000 people across nine villages.

The test of a remarkable club is knowing members, staff and the wider community would genuinely miss it if it were to permanently close – not simply a temporary sense of frustration, but profound disappointment. So let me ask you: Do you believe members, staff and the wider community of Calgary would miss this club if I made it disappear?

“I love that Fifth Avenue Club is not only making a difference in Calgary, but also changing lives on the other side of the globe” - Darren Kantischer

 



The club and other donors are transforming the lives of 40,000 people across nine villages
 


Help for the Hungry and Fifth Avenue Club aim to alleviate poverty in Belo, Ethiopia
 
 


The project is supplying accessible drinking water for the villagers
 
 


Canadian health club owner Darren Kanwischer wanted to make a long-term commitment to Belo
 
 


Three dollars of every monthly gym subscription goes directly to the Belo community, plus other fundraising
 
 


Belo completes the programme and is deemed self-sufficient, with running water, schools and more
 
 


Belo completes the programme and is deemed self-sufficient, with running water, schools and more
 
 


Children, armed with books, are going to school for the first time
 

Walking alongside a community - in a nutshell
Project by: Fifth Avenue Club, Canada

Web: www.fifthavenueclub.ca

Charity supported: Food for the Hungry, Canada

Project status: Ongoing and long-term

Impact: Belo region, Ethiopia

Gymtopia keywords: Clothing and Shelter, Education, Food & Nutrition, Health & Wellbeing

CASE STUDY TWO - Project Walk

A health club in the US is being transformed into a world-class facility for people living with a spinal cord injury. Ray Algar reports

Mike Alpert’s early career was as a Californian stockbroker with Shearson Lehman Brothers, but it was a move to Oregon that profoundly changed his life. He had been drawn to Oregon for the winter skiing, but soon after arriving decided with a close friend to create the Athletic Club of Bend, a new multi-use athletic, aquatic, tennis and social club.

One programme they started at the club was for children with severe physically disabilities, called US Able Oregon, and Alpert began twice-weekly warm waterpool sessions with a five-year-old boy living with severe spina bifida. Alpert was struck by the joy these sessions brought to a boy who would never walk and asked himself why the club wasn’t doing more programmes like this. “I became obsessed with wanting to do more of these kinds of things. That five-year-old boy changed my life and gave me meaning,” he says.

Alpert eventually returned to California where, since 1997, he has been the president and CEO of The Claremont Club. Founded in 1973, the health club, fitness and wellness centre nestles in 7.5 hectares in the city of Claremont – around 52km east of downtown Los Angeles – where it serves more than 10,000 members.

The inclusive operating philosophy that Alpert embedded in his earlier Oregon club is also evident at the Claremont Club, which is why this year it was the recipient of IHRSA’s Outstanding Community Service Award; each year, IHRSA recognises one health club that’s making a difference in, and beyond, its local community.

Spinal cord injuries
In 2007, Claremont Club member Hal Hargrave was involved in a road traffic accident that resulted in a life-changing spinal cord injury. After one year, his insurance company stopped paying for rehabilitation and Hargrave was in limbo until The Claremont Club stepped in and offered to convert a single 84sq m racquetball court into a dedicated therapy gym.
It soon became evident that there were many other people with spinal cord injuries needing ongoing rehabilitation. What started as the conversion of a single court has therefore been extended into a 474sq m world-class facility called the Project Walk Spinal Cord Injury Recovery Center, supporting approximately 80 full-time clients.

Project Walk is a fee-based programme, as the centre employs seven specialist staff, but the club financially supports people on a case-by-case basis. Close family members receive complimentary club membership so they can recuperate and also not have to witness their loved ones going through what can be very distressing therapy.

Approximately 300 people living with paralysis have experienced Project Walk to date. Lives are being transformed, with some people making such remarkable progress in both their physical and mental wellbeing that they are subsequently hired to work at the club.

Meanwhile Hargrave has since formed the Be Perfect Foundation, a non-profit organisation that supports people living with paralysis.

Health club meets healthcare
Alpert believes a health club should be more than a domain for those predisposed to physical activity – a playground for ‘active affluents’. His passion for supporting people affected by a life-changing injury or illness comes from his belief that exercise really is a medicine.

It’s an operating philosophy that’s allowing his club to straddle fitness and healthcare. “We have the ability to reach out and really help people struggling with chronic injuries and illnesses,” says Alpert. “In so many cases, these people have been written off and forgotten.”

He adds: “Exercise is medicine. Isn’t it time we took the lead in merging the experts in healthcare with the experts in fitness? Why do they continue to work so independently of each other when we know that exercise has such a powerful effect on people’s health?”

“In so many cases, these people have been written off and forgotten” - Mike Alpert

 



Mike Alpert
 


Hal Hargreave, a crash victim, was the first beneficiary of Project Walk
 
 


The club offers a free one-year programme for children and adults living with cancer. The club serves more than 10,000 members
 
 


The club offers a free one-year programme for children and adults living with cancer. The club serves more than 10,000 members
 
Living Well After Cancer programme

The Claremont Club, US

“I feel like I’m trying to run away from my cancer when I’m on the treadmill,” says Linda Johnson, a Claremont Club member. Johnson used to describe herself as a ‘professional couch potato’. That was before she enrolled onto the club’s Living Well After Cancer programme. Private donations enable the specialised programme to be delivered without charge.

The programme is a collaboration between The Claremont Club and Pomona Valley Hospital’s cancer care centre, and over 13 weeks men and women take part in fitness conditioning, nutrition workshops and support group meetings. As of June 2016, 790 people had completed the programme, reporting higher self-esteem, better fitness levels and an enriched quality of life as a result.

Due to its popularity, the club now offers a free one-year programme for children and young adults living with cancer.

Project Walk - in a nutshell


Project by: The Claremont Club, US

Web:T www.claremontclub.com

Charities supported: TVarious

Project status: TOngoing and long-term

Impact: TUnited States

Gymtopia keywords: THealth & Wellbeing, Helping Children, Education


What’s your club’s story?
What is your business doing in standing for something and using its influence to create some meaningful change? Once you’ve created a significant difference, remember to share your story on Gymtopia and see how remarkable things can really spread.
 


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SELECTED ISSUE
Leisure Management
2016 Review

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Leisure Management - Angels’ advocate

Gymtopia

Angels’ advocate


Gymtopia founder Ray Algar presents two international projects that are making a real difference to the lives of people far beyond the walls of the health club

Ray Algar, Gymtopia


Gymtopia: a place where clubs do social good

 

Ray Algar
 

Ray Algar launched Gymtopia in 2013, a website that gathers stories that show different ways the health and fitness industry is giving back to its local communities. The idea came after Algar heard about a project in Brazil where gym members could donate their old sports shoes to Symap, a charity that helps get poor children into sports. Since its launch, Gymtopia has given a platform to numerous projects that have fought against animal cruelty, climate change and poverty; promoted education, healthy eating and fitness; or funded clothing and shelter or medical research.

Read more stories and submit your own: www.Gymtopia.org


CASE STUDY ONE - Walking alongside a community

Ray Algar reports on a remarkable club in Canada that’s enriching the lives of Ethiopians – on a long-term basis

I want to share the remarkable story of how the independent Fifth Avenue Club in Calgary, Canada, is making a nine-year commitment to support the growth of communities in the Belo region of western Ethiopia.

Why tell this story?
What appealed to me about this project was the long-term nature of the club’s support for Food for the Hungry, its chosen Canadian charity partner.

Darren Kanwischer, owner of the Fifth Avenue Club, had noticed the tendency for some gyms to approach charity as a one-time short-term event, whereas he wanted to forge a long-term partnership that could make a meaningful and enduring impact, touching thousands of lives.

It started over a coffee
Kanwischer became aware of Food for the Hungry and its work across Africa through the club’s coffee supplier, and was drawn to the idea of ‘adopting’ the Belo community as part of a sustainable development project.

The purpose of Food for the Hungry is to end poverty one community at a time, and the charity achieves this by ‘walking alongside’ a community. ‘Walking alongside’ means the charity doesn’t believe in short-term handouts, but instead works to understand the root causes of poverty and commits to support a community for about 10 years, after which it should be self-sustaining. It seeks donor partners who believe in this long-term approach and are able to support the funding of health, sanitation, food security, education and local leadership.

Friendliest club in town
Since the 1,440sq m Fifth Avenue Club opened in 2006, it has focused on becoming the friendliest fitness venue in the city. Calgary itself is the largest city in the province of Alberta, with a population of 1.1 million at the 2011 census. It’s a prospering city that has attracted many of Canada’s largest companies, so residents can choose from many different club brands: GoodLife Fitness operates nearby, as do Anytime Fitness, a number of specialist studios, CrossFit and many other fitness providers.‘Friendly’ and ‘supportive’ are therefore two important attributes for this 700-member club as competition intensifies and people make their club choice.

Every member counts
Since 2007, three dollars of every member’s monthly membership subscription is donated to Food for the Hungry. These compound over the years, which means this one club has so far donated more than C$250,000.

Members and staff fundraise on top of this via sponsored runs, and the club also donates proceeds when replacing gym equipment. This partnership has become a part of the club’s story and features prominently on its website.

“I love that Fifth Avenue Club is not only making a difference here in Calgary, but also changing lives on the other side of the globe in Belo,” says Kanwischer.

A personal investment
Long-term partnerships like this only work when owners, staff and members feel a genuine connection with the project, which in this case is separated by more than 8,000 miles. Kanwischer has personally visited the region four times and so is able to report back first-hand on the difference the club is making, along with mid- and full-year updates from the charity. Kanwischer’s family has also been personally sponsoring a child from the area for many years.

Making a difference
The club will continue its support of the Belo community through to its ‘graduation’ in December 2016 – the point at which the community is untethered from ‘charity’ and deemed to be self-sufficient. Food for the Hungry characterises this as being this point at which the charity is able to transition from being the ‘coach’ to watching from the sidelines.

When this stage is reached, more children will be flourishing in school, proudly wearing their new school uniforms and possessing all the materials necessary for learning. New water points will not only be providing fresh drinking water, but their close proximity will also mean time previously spent walking for water can now be reclaimed and better invested in activities such as farming, education and also just joyful play. Counselling will at this point be available on HIV/AIDS awareness, food nutrition, women’s rights, child marriages and much more, creating a virtuous spiral.

And all this will have been achieved because a health club bothered to care some 8,000 miles away. In all, Fifth Avenue Club and other donors are helping transform the lives of more than 40,000 people across nine villages.

The test of a remarkable club is knowing members, staff and the wider community would genuinely miss it if it were to permanently close – not simply a temporary sense of frustration, but profound disappointment. So let me ask you: Do you believe members, staff and the wider community of Calgary would miss this club if I made it disappear?

“I love that Fifth Avenue Club is not only making a difference in Calgary, but also changing lives on the other side of the globe” - Darren Kantischer

 



The club and other donors are transforming the lives of 40,000 people across nine villages
 


Help for the Hungry and Fifth Avenue Club aim to alleviate poverty in Belo, Ethiopia
 
 


The project is supplying accessible drinking water for the villagers
 
 


Canadian health club owner Darren Kanwischer wanted to make a long-term commitment to Belo
 
 


Three dollars of every monthly gym subscription goes directly to the Belo community, plus other fundraising
 
 


Belo completes the programme and is deemed self-sufficient, with running water, schools and more
 
 


Belo completes the programme and is deemed self-sufficient, with running water, schools and more
 
 


Children, armed with books, are going to school for the first time
 

Walking alongside a community - in a nutshell
Project by: Fifth Avenue Club, Canada

Web: www.fifthavenueclub.ca

Charity supported: Food for the Hungry, Canada

Project status: Ongoing and long-term

Impact: Belo region, Ethiopia

Gymtopia keywords: Clothing and Shelter, Education, Food & Nutrition, Health & Wellbeing

CASE STUDY TWO - Project Walk

A health club in the US is being transformed into a world-class facility for people living with a spinal cord injury. Ray Algar reports

Mike Alpert’s early career was as a Californian stockbroker with Shearson Lehman Brothers, but it was a move to Oregon that profoundly changed his life. He had been drawn to Oregon for the winter skiing, but soon after arriving decided with a close friend to create the Athletic Club of Bend, a new multi-use athletic, aquatic, tennis and social club.

One programme they started at the club was for children with severe physically disabilities, called US Able Oregon, and Alpert began twice-weekly warm waterpool sessions with a five-year-old boy living with severe spina bifida. Alpert was struck by the joy these sessions brought to a boy who would never walk and asked himself why the club wasn’t doing more programmes like this. “I became obsessed with wanting to do more of these kinds of things. That five-year-old boy changed my life and gave me meaning,” he says.

Alpert eventually returned to California where, since 1997, he has been the president and CEO of The Claremont Club. Founded in 1973, the health club, fitness and wellness centre nestles in 7.5 hectares in the city of Claremont – around 52km east of downtown Los Angeles – where it serves more than 10,000 members.

The inclusive operating philosophy that Alpert embedded in his earlier Oregon club is also evident at the Claremont Club, which is why this year it was the recipient of IHRSA’s Outstanding Community Service Award; each year, IHRSA recognises one health club that’s making a difference in, and beyond, its local community.

Spinal cord injuries
In 2007, Claremont Club member Hal Hargrave was involved in a road traffic accident that resulted in a life-changing spinal cord injury. After one year, his insurance company stopped paying for rehabilitation and Hargrave was in limbo until The Claremont Club stepped in and offered to convert a single 84sq m racquetball court into a dedicated therapy gym.
It soon became evident that there were many other people with spinal cord injuries needing ongoing rehabilitation. What started as the conversion of a single court has therefore been extended into a 474sq m world-class facility called the Project Walk Spinal Cord Injury Recovery Center, supporting approximately 80 full-time clients.

Project Walk is a fee-based programme, as the centre employs seven specialist staff, but the club financially supports people on a case-by-case basis. Close family members receive complimentary club membership so they can recuperate and also not have to witness their loved ones going through what can be very distressing therapy.

Approximately 300 people living with paralysis have experienced Project Walk to date. Lives are being transformed, with some people making such remarkable progress in both their physical and mental wellbeing that they are subsequently hired to work at the club.

Meanwhile Hargrave has since formed the Be Perfect Foundation, a non-profit organisation that supports people living with paralysis.

Health club meets healthcare
Alpert believes a health club should be more than a domain for those predisposed to physical activity – a playground for ‘active affluents’. His passion for supporting people affected by a life-changing injury or illness comes from his belief that exercise really is a medicine.

It’s an operating philosophy that’s allowing his club to straddle fitness and healthcare. “We have the ability to reach out and really help people struggling with chronic injuries and illnesses,” says Alpert. “In so many cases, these people have been written off and forgotten.”

He adds: “Exercise is medicine. Isn’t it time we took the lead in merging the experts in healthcare with the experts in fitness? Why do they continue to work so independently of each other when we know that exercise has such a powerful effect on people’s health?”

“In so many cases, these people have been written off and forgotten” - Mike Alpert

 



Mike Alpert
 


Hal Hargreave, a crash victim, was the first beneficiary of Project Walk
 
 


The club offers a free one-year programme for children and adults living with cancer. The club serves more than 10,000 members
 
 


The club offers a free one-year programme for children and adults living with cancer. The club serves more than 10,000 members
 
Living Well After Cancer programme

The Claremont Club, US

“I feel like I’m trying to run away from my cancer when I’m on the treadmill,” says Linda Johnson, a Claremont Club member. Johnson used to describe herself as a ‘professional couch potato’. That was before she enrolled onto the club’s Living Well After Cancer programme. Private donations enable the specialised programme to be delivered without charge.

The programme is a collaboration between The Claremont Club and Pomona Valley Hospital’s cancer care centre, and over 13 weeks men and women take part in fitness conditioning, nutrition workshops and support group meetings. As of June 2016, 790 people had completed the programme, reporting higher self-esteem, better fitness levels and an enriched quality of life as a result.

Due to its popularity, the club now offers a free one-year programme for children and young adults living with cancer.

Project Walk - in a nutshell


Project by: The Claremont Club, US

Web:T www.claremontclub.com

Charities supported: TVarious

Project status: TOngoing and long-term

Impact: TUnited States

Gymtopia keywords: THealth & Wellbeing, Helping Children, Education


What’s your club’s story?
What is your business doing in standing for something and using its influence to create some meaningful change? Once you’ve created a significant difference, remember to share your story on Gymtopia and see how remarkable things can really spread.

Originally published in Leisure Management 2016 issue 1

Published by The Leisure Media Company Ltd Portmill House, Portmill Lane, Hitchin, Herts SG5 1DJ. Tel: +44 (0)1462 431385 | Contact us | About us | © Cybertrek Ltd