The gym was only a quarter full, but it felt packed thanks to the spirited energy and the heat from a few dozen little bodies. Music was blasting from the speakers and all the kids were facing one woman at the front. She was more into it than everyone else, a huge smile across her face, sweat on her brow. Watching her made the kids try harder; they dropped their inhibitions and put more of themselves into their moves.
And then the bridge of the song came on, and the woman started talking into her mic. “One day, you will be older, you will be stronger, but right now you have a voice, and you have a right to be heard – so let me hear you!”
In unison every single child started singing at the top of their lungs: “When I get older, I will be stronger, they’ll call me freedom just like a waving flag!” (Check out the video here.)
It was Pink Shirt Day 2015 and Cheryl from No More Excuses was teaching Zumba at our McCauley Club with a focus on kindness and anti-bullying. There wasn’t a dry eye in the room as the BGCBigs staff watched how a physical activity inspired and lifted up that group of children.
Cheryl came into our lives in the Fall of 2014.
“In working with schools and with community leagues, I noticed that there were children who needed programming after school and extra support,” Cheryl tells us. “I learned that there’s very little out there for kids once school shuts down for the day. I wanted to help address that gap.”
At first Cheryl thought she might have to start her own nonprofit organization, but once she started looking around she realized that there were quality groups in Edmonton already doing similar work. Rather than recreate the wheel, she decided she could offer programs to supplement what they were already doing.
“I was looking for an organization that has a huge impact on children. When I found Boys & Girls Clubs Big Brothers Big Sisters, I immediately reached out to see how I could help.”
After a few conversations with our leadership, Fun2Bfit was born in May 2015. The fitness program designed specifically for children and youth, included Zumba, exercise boot camps, kickboxing, yoga and martial arts. Since our 10 Clubs around Edmonton are unique to their communities, Cheryl was open to developing a different schedule to fit the needs of the kids at each. It was not a one size fits all kind of program, and our staff and kids loved that.
“Cheryl reached out to her network of people and in a very short amount of time managed to raise enough for the equipment kits for each of our Clubs,” says Sandra Prefontaine, Manager of Clubs at BGCBigs. “It blew us away! A little miracle.”
And that miracle was just the first of many. Last summer we wanted to run a soccer program but didn’t quite have the resources to get it off the ground. That’s where No More Excuses came in. Cheryl found us coaches, ran a soccer skills program, and then organized a tournament at the end of the summer to celebrate everything the kids had learned. She also helped secure donors and organized fundraising within the No More Excuses Community to pay for the official soccer jerseys, the medals, and food for that final day.
“That soccer tournament was one of the highlights of my career, and my life,” Cheryl says.
One little boy at our Tweddle Club didn’t make his soccer team at school. On the day Cheryl dropped off the jerseys for Fun2Bfit, he ran to one of the staff members and asked to use the phone: “Mom, I made the soccer team! I made it! I’ve even got my own jersey!”
That little guy might never know all the hard work that went into getting him that jersey, but the feeling of belonging he got that day was absolutely priceless.
No More Excuses’ philosophy is “we don’t only work-out but we also work-in”. They strongly believe “there’s no better way to get stronger than to lift someone up.”
“You have to take care of yourself and take care of the people around you,” Cheryl says. “My hope is that one day every single child will have an even playing field. BGCBigs gives kids that opportunity. Every time I walk into a club I would wonder where they would be if not here.”
As much as Cheryl loves our Clubs, our kids love her and her team more. She’s energetic and engaging, and she’s a natural at getting the kids to participate.
“She’s a motivator,” Sandra explains. “She brings quality programming to our kids and it’s so important. It boosts their spirits and helps them feel good about themselves – both physically and mentally.”
“Fun2Bfit has a tremendous impact on our agency,” Sandra continues. “If you think about the cost of us running a program like this, we simply couldn’t buy this on our budget. No More Excuses teaches our kids about being healthy and being active and giving back. They want our kids to understand the difference between health and nutrition and physical activity and why they are all important. And most of all, it’s another way for our kids to be part of something, to have another healthy outlet in their lives, and another caring adult.”
“I always get asked why I do what I do,” Cheryl laughs. “I say that it’s the most selfish act I have in a day. When I go to a Club, I am so filled, so fundamentally filled. I do it because I love to do it and it’s the most incredible experience I’ve ever had.”
BGCBigs Club programs are developed to offer kids opportunities to build the skills and knowledge they need to achieve their full potential. Fun2Bfit hits three of our five focus areas: physical activity, health, and growth, empowerment, life skills, and leadership. The kids who attend No More Excuses programs and meet Cheryl and her team leave feeling happy and positive and they know they have another safe person in their life who will do whatever it takes to lift them up and help them succeed.