Posted on September 06, 2017 by Steve's Club National Program
It’s 7:30 a.m. —or “Zero Seven Thirty” as they say around here— and the safety and security briefing room of the Fort Indiantown Gap National Guard Training Base holds its morning security briefing. The briefing covers what groups or units are using which of the training center’s various facilities or ranges, what heat category they expect—being mid July they expect highs in the mid 80’s with 90% humidity. They distribute a sign in sheet, radios, SOP (standard operating procedure) binders, facility keys and radio call signs.
As roll is called a subtle rainbow of camouflage designate the different branches of active duty military represented by the meeting’s 20 attendees who officiously acknowledge their presence. Well 19 of 20. One of the people in the meeting, her call sign is 2-7, is in a uniform all her own: sandals, athletic shorts and a Steve’s Club t-shirt, Leora Hafri. While the other 19 members of the military, and the units they represent, are there to train to protect and defend our country’s present, Leora wants to train 28 underserved and at-risk kids to help improve and enrich the country’s future.
Leora, Steve’s Club National Program’s Senior Program Director, has organized and run the Steve’s Club Summer Leadership Camp for the last three years. From the pre-camp planning and organizing to the nonstop show-runner lifestyle during the camp itself, Leora’s unflagging effort is the engine that makes the event run, and for one week out of the year, Steve’s Club National Program is a place.
For the vast majority of the year, Steve’s Club National program isn’t fixed in any one place. It exists in the communications ether of conference calls and this website; it exists in the shared philosophies and mission of the affiliate Local Clubs. But if you wanted to, say, go visit Steve’s Club National Program, there’s only one week a year that’s possible and that’s the week of camp.
Like Brigadoon, the fictional village in the Highlands of Scotland, which only exists for 1 day every 100 hundred years emerging out of the mists of an idyllic landscape, Steve’s Club National Program emerges from the sweat and toil of Leora and the other organizers and appears for one week in the barracks, mess hall, and leadership/obstacle courses of a National Guard Training Base in Pennsylvania. For Leora, this coming together makes camp worth the effort.
“Camp is so special because, not only does it allow us to meet in person,” she said. “But it’s an opportunity for kids from all over the country to come together, and meet people who they never would have met before but who they have shared experiences with.”
She also acknowledges that there is an almost supernatural aspect to camp. “It’s so hard to describe camp without using the word magical, but transformative is what it is. It’s transformative for every one who comes, even if for just a few hours.”
Just like in any magic trick, the effect only works when the conjurer puts in an inordinate amount of work beforehand. In the case of camp, Leora spent almost every hour of the 6 weeks leading up to this year’s first day getting everything ready. She had to don the hats of many different roles; travel agent for coordinating the departures and arrivals of the attendees, staff and coaches, event coordinator for ensuring all of the catering and activities were scheduled, talent recruiter to make sure all the coaches were engaged and had background checks, and safety warden going to the Base to get range safety instruction and certifications necessary to gain access, she even had to learn the phonetic alphabet (Whiskey Tango Foxtrot).
Despite this laborious schedule, Leora is quick to credit the efforts of the greater Steve’s Club community, which helped make this year such an overwhelming success. For the first time in 2017 the National Program asked Local Clubs to shoulder some of the cost of camp by sponsoring the athletes they send. Rather than reducing the total number of participants, this year attendance set a record.
“We had 28 kids, 22 boys and 6 girls, more than any of the previous 4 years,” she said. “These kids are the leaders of their local programs. The Local Clubs were selecting the kids that deserved to go and putting fundraising dollars behind it. So the kids this year were amazing.”
If you follow the Instagram or Facebook feeds of the National Program during camp, it’s easy to pick up on the show-stopping elements. The group-shot in front of the ginormous climbing tower and cargo net on the obstacle course, the rows of kids front racking barbells with quintessentially military barracks in the background, not to mention the hikes in the woods, and games by the lake and on the basketball courts. You can nearly hear the bugle calls of reveille and the rotors of helicopters flying overhead, or see the phalanxes of soldiers marching in time and counting cadence. But for Leora, the real magic of camp happens in a much less ‘gramable setting: the nightly sharing circle. The evening event where athletes give their highs and lows for the day and discuss their own stories.
“In the sharing circle the staff and Local Club leaders create this environment of a community that really cares about the athletes. Even the first night of sharing circle, the kids are able to open up and be vulnerable. They share things that maybe they’ve never told their closest friends or family, but in this safe space, they share it with people who just a few hours before were perfect strangers.”
It’s always difficult for Leora to discuss camp without emotion overwhelming her, but it’s impossible for her to discuss 2017 without her voice cracking and tears welling; 2017 was the first year that 4 kids from her Local Club in Philadelphia attended camp. This gave her the ability to see not only the magic of transforming kids, but how it transforms the Local Club leaders as well.
“The amount of time you get to spend with the kids in the gym week to week is so fleeting. If you have 20 kids in your class, it’s really hard to learn who the kids really are. But at camp you get to see them outside the gym and form this connection that you never would have otherwise. I’ve gone to every Steve’s Club workout at the gym since camp ended, just to be with these kids. They truly are my inspiration.”
Posted on May 31, 2017 by Steve's Club National Program
Any CrossFit athlete knows the feeling of failing and bailing. The bar rattles as the bumper plates bounce off the mat. Your face goes flush from both the expended effort and the emotional upheaval of missing the lift and your brain reels as it tries to figure out what went wrong.
Every Steve’s Club coach knows this moment of failure is where the magic happens. Watching and coaching athletes as they deal with a setback, is the hub from which all the goals and missions of this organization radiate.
Tina Ramos, owner and founder of Boston Iron and Grit and founder of Boston Iron Kids Club (a Steve's Club program), knows that lifting and pursuing fitness goals have a lot of similarities to overcoming struggles in other areas of life.
Steve's Club coaches and volunteers are passionate about CrossFit and know that it's a powerful vehicle for giving kids a way to manage some of their life challenges. Fun fitness is the hook to get them moving and slowly they begin to realize that they can do even more than they imagined, if they commit to their goals and work hard.
But overcoming challenges isn't just for the kids and teens we serve. Recently, circumstances forced Tina Ramos to make some big moves both at her affiliate and with her Steve’s Club program. She had to make drastic personnel changes and start back almost from square 1.
“There are a lot of hard learned lessons in business ownership.” Ramos said. “I thought what am I doing? I feel like I'm failing at all of this.”
“But I came back to the only reason I opened my gym was to support a Steve’s Club program for at-risk kids and teens in my community.”
Ramos, a Harvard educated former school counselor, didn’t come to Steve’s Club through the usual route of discovering CrossFit, becoming a coach, starting a gym and then learning of Steve’s Club and adding it on. No, Ramos became aware of Steve’s Club in the early days of her CrossFit journey. It was the idea of Steve’s Club that motivated her to leave her job in education, become a coach and start her own gym.
“From the very beginning, within the first three months, I knew this is what I wanted to do,” Ramos said. ”So I left my school counseling position, got my level 1 and applied to be a Steve's Club program.”
Ramos’ first experience with CrossFit was with the Boston affiliate CrossFit New England. The positive support of the community drew her in and paralleled her earliest experiences as an athlete.
Ramos attributes much of her life’s success to her high school track coach, Mr. Kyser.
“If I hadn’t had Mr. Kyser, I don’t know if I would’ve finished High School. I don’t know if I would have gone on to college.” Ramos said. “I know that having the right role models and the right mentors, was so important to me staying off the streets and going to college.”
It's those role models and positive experiences that she wanted to pay forward to underserved youth in Boston. Tina's goal with Boston Iron Kids Club is to create a community and support system to nurture disadvantaged kids and help them become future leaders in the community.
After acquiring her level 1 and coaching in a gym, she came to understand that the only way she could realize her goal of implementing a Local Steve’s Club was to open her own affiliate. “That was the scariest step.”
Nevertheless, Boston Iron Kids Club held their first fundraiser "BEAT the Streets" in 2014, and in 2105 raised $14,000. When faced with some operational challenges at her gym this past November, Ramos had to “rebuild, regroup and refocus.” Throughout this process she relied on the CrossFit community and her commitment to Steve’s Club.
“I felt like quitting in November but I started calling other CrossFit Affiliate owners and I was introduced to Brandon Peterson the owner of CrossFit Free. We met and now he does our programming and is my business advisor. He has also agreed to join our BEAT The Streets fundraising initiative and I'm super excited to get the 2017 fundraiser organized!”
Ramos also continues to develop her relationship in her local community. Boston Iron Kids Club partners with the 3 Point Foundation to work holistically with inner city youth on both their fitness and academic performance. She also recently started a pilot program with a local high school to train even more kids.
Ramos feels stronger for the failures she experienced, the obstacles she surmounted, and is back at it with more dedication than ever to improving the lives of kids, one kid at a time..
Steve's Club at the core is about acknowledging that we're all on a journey, with many ups and downs, and it's a lot easier to go through it with other positive people who care about your success. If we can give that gift to at-risk kids, who might not have that in their lives, then we're contributing to making the world a better place.
Tina and all the other Local Club coaches nationwide are making sacrifices each day, week, month, and year to make this mission happen. We're proud to have such amazing leaders and volunteers.
Posted on February 16, 2017 by Steve's Club National Program
One of the great things about the Steve’s Club model is that it can adapt to the needs and resources of different communities around the country. In Denver, they built their program from the interests of their founder and founding board, the volunteerism and financial resources of a nearby community, and some of the highest needs kids from their corner of the city. The combination of variables produced one of the larger and fastest growing clubs in the Steve’s Club family.
Within parameters set down by the National Program, each Local Club can decide who they work with and what at-risk population they will serve. In Denver, the founders want to pull from their immediate community, while also serving kids with high mental health needs. In partnership with Third Way Centers, an area non-profit providing housing and treatment to teens, Steve’s Club Denver (SCD) works with 3 different types of athletes in treatment.
For one, they send coaches twice a week to a locked residential treatment center and these athletes are considered higher risk for their recent history of neglect, abuse, or legal problems. Secondly, they work with more stable teens who attend a school run by Third Way and access CrossFit Broadway, or who live in Third Way group homes and workout at Project Rise Fitness-Stapleton. These students have staff with them at all times, but are farther along in their treatment than those in the locked facility. The third type of participant is an older adolescent, living in an apartment run by Third Way, and attending workouts at CrossFit Broadway.
“Since our start, we’ve wanted to follow students within Third Way from their highest risk, to their most stable. This way, Steve’s Club gets to be a consistent part of their week, every week, regardless of where they go next with their treatment.” Duncan Seawell, a clinical psychologist and the founder of SCD, takes great pride in the fact that teens within this part of his program have the benefits of consistent high intensity exercise, consistent adults as coaches and mentors, and consistent positive peer culture within workouts.
“If we know consistency is a key ingredient in healthy child development, why not mix it in with other essential ingredients like effective workouts, healthy relationships, and the good time we all enjoy by working out with our friends.”
The Denver Club is successful in a number of ways and for different reasons. Throughout their development, however, they have proven a key piece of the National Program philosophy shared by all locations: Give Local Clubs the opportunity and freedom to work with who they want and they will find a way to build an effective program for at-risk teens.
Learn more about how to start a Local Steve's Club in your community HERE.
Posted on November 28, 2016 by Steve's Club National Program
Most of us don’t have a very vivid memory of our childhoods, especially the very early years. But what does it mean when you are 17 years old and can’t remember things that occurred only a few short years before?
It’s not amnesia. It’s not due to any physical injury. It’s another kind of trauma. The type of trauma that comes from dealing with your mother overdosing on drugs. “I don’t really remember where I grew up. Somewhere in the country. I kind of grew up all over. My mom wasn’t really in my life, but when she was, it really just wasn’t pleasant,” shared Tommy, an athlete at Steve's Club Nashville.
Tommy’s reaction to his mother’s passing, while not ideal, is understandable. After his mother passed, Tommy made a lot of bad decisions. He acted out as many teenagers would have, and do. “I fell into a lot of bad habits, a lot of which involved drugs.” Tommy, who had to be dragged to Steve’s Club Nashville by his dad, was described by Coach Rebecca as “sullen, quiet, and aloof” in his earliest days before he embarked on a transformation that brought him around 180 degrees.
“Tommy arrived and didn’t really speak. His dad was bringing him in because Tommy was acting up and he didn’t really know what else to do with him. That was about three and a half years ago. About a year into it, he really began to change. He went from that quiet, sullen kid to a happier, more open kid,” Rebecca beamed. “Now he helps the other kids, cheers them on, and even goes out of his way to help clean up equipment without being asked." I think we all know how hard it is to get teenagers to clean up anything.
Tommy, admittedly, was heading down the wrong path, but found CrossFit in time to redirect his negative energy into a positive influence in his life and turn things around. He plans to enlist in the Marines after graduation in the spring of 2017. “I just found a better way to express myself. I realized that I can be who I really am, and be more open in front of others. I also realized that maybe it’s not about fitting in, but maybe it’s all about standing out,” Tommy said thoughtfully.
“There have been quite a few times I’ve been put down in my life. People always want to put a label on you, and that’s fine, people are always going to talk about you because they want something to talk about. That drives me to keep going, to get better, to be the best, because then, that’ll give them something to talk about, being the best.”
But Tommy now realizes something that he did not before. After his mother passed, he went on a search. He was searching for happiness. And no matter where he looked, or which drug he tried, he couldn’t find what he was looking for, until Steve’s Club. “I began to realize after a few weeks of coming to Steve’s Club that the high you get from drugs, that “happiness”, can be found naturally. And that’s what I’ve found with CrossFit and Steve’s Club,” Tommy said.
“It’s helped me so much mentally, physically, and emotionally. The workouts are hard, but fun, then you start challenging yourself. Then you start doing things you couldn’t do before, overcoming challenges, and it keeps you coming back.”
Tommy understands the impact and change Steve’s Club and CrossFit has had on his life and has turned into a recruiter at school. “There’s really not much not to like. I tell everyone that they have to try it. It’s free, it’s fun, but the community is what is truly incredible. Everybody gets down at certain points, whether it’s in a workout or in life. But at Steve’s Club we are all pulling for each other, and that’s made a huge difference for me.”
If you'd like to start a Steve's Club in your community to provide a safe and nurturing environment for kids like Tommy, learn more here.
If you want to help us reach more kids like Tommy in other cities nationwide, we rely on donations to expand our program and start more Steve's Clubs. Join us in making a difference!
Posted on November 28, 2016 by Steve's Club National Program
Most 14-year-olds enjoy sleeping in, avoid doing hard work, and need to be told what to do. Elijah from Steve's Club Louisville in Kentucky is different. He was the very first athlete to join this new chapter of Steve's Club in March of 2016.
"Elijah saw the story the local news ran about our gym and called me immediately. We spoke for about 20 minutes that night. And he showed up on our doorstep before we were even open at 7:30 in the morning. He's a pretty cool kid," said Local Club founder Nicole Harp. "He just loved being involved from Day 1. He was showing up anywhere and everywhere. He even did our ribbon cutting at the Grand Opening."
"Before Steve's Club, I was a couch potato. I would just sit there, watch TV, and not do anything all day. Now if I had to give advice to that kid sitting there on that couch, I would tell him to get up, get going, and get to Steve's Club," Elijah shared. "The changes that I have seen within myself physically and mentally have been amazing. I'm way more strong physically, but mentally, I'm much, much stronger. I used to be thinking about the wrong things all the time, that's just not the case anymore."
Steve's Club Louisville, located in the lowest socioeconomic area of Louisville, Kentucky, is not in a neighborhood that makes it easy on a kid, or offers a lot of opportunity. Violent crimes there are 6.32 on average per 1,000 residents, compared to the national average of 3.8 which makes it one of the more dangerous places to live in the US. There are 53 crimes per square mile there, compared to 33 as a national average.
Regardless, Elijah makes the most of it. Using his bike to get around, Elijah puts in regular shifts at Wendy's, is in the JROTC, and is an everyday member at his Local Steve's Club.
"He's already seen some massive improvement. He looks way more fit. He's a completely different kid. Personal accountability has been a huge issue for him, but it's something we're working on and he has been willing to work on to get better," Harp said.
One major learning opportunity for Elijah was something many teens face throughout their time in school - a failed test. The teacher asked Elijah to come in early to school to remedy the situation and figure out a way to improve his grades. Unfortunately, he tried to sweep it under the rug and not tell his mother about it. Like many teens, he thought he could try to fix it on his own.
Elijah came to Coach Harp asking for a ride to school early one morning. Harp, a former member of the military, sensed something was up, and knew she had to receive permission from Elijah's mom to provide the transportation, so she made Elijah call his mother to come clean. Elijah took care of the situation and learned a valuable lesson. It is best to confront problems head on instead of trying to dance around them because they will eventually catch up to you, one way or another. That's what our Steve's Club coaches and volunteers are there for - to be another caring influence and keep them on the right path.
"I learned a ton from that situation, and I think that is a great example of just one of the many lessons that I've learned since joining Steve's Club," Elijah said. "There are going to be difficult times throughout your life, but putting them off, avoiding them, or hiding from them is only going to make them worse in the long run."
Elijah, a self-described goofball, has used these lessons to turn into one of the leaders at his Local Club. "He works so well with all the new kids that come in," Harp described. "Over the last month or so, we've probably had 10-15 kids join and he has been a huge help for them. He's great with teaching them and making them feel welcomed and involved."
"I just love the environment at Steve's Club. From Day 1, it has felt like family. That's what I try to tell all the kids I try to recruit to come to Steve's Club. It will 100% make you a more improved version of yourself, and it provides a sense of belonging. A sense of family," Elijah said proudly.
Steve's Club is a network of chapters across the country that provides fitness, nutrition, and mentorship to at-risk youth. To learn more about Steve's Club Louisville and other Local Clubs across the nation, click here.
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