GAINESVILLE, FL -- Gainesville Health & Fitness Centers’ Free Summer Teen Membership program has received some attention from Florida Gov. Charlie Crist. The governor sent a thank-you letter to the club for offering the program, which began June 15 and ends Aug. 15. More than 1,700 teens took part in the inaugural program last year, which grants 13- to 17-year-olds in Alachua County (FL) free access to the Gainesville, FL, club’s three locations.

Originally intended to combat teen obesity and further the gym’s mission of “keeping Gainesville the healthiest community in America,” the free teen memberships also became a way to ensure that all teens in the area had access to summer recreational activities in spite of the state of the economy, says Joe Cirulli, owner of the club company.

“At Gainesville Health & Fitness Centers, we want to do our part to help encourage teens to get and stay active,” says Cirulli, a proponent of preventive health care. “One way we hope to encourage our teens is to offer these free two-month memberships, so our future generations will be well prepared to keep Gainesville the gold standard of healthy communities.”

Cirulli’s clubs offer this free program as a roughly $1.3 million investment in the community’s future by providing opportunities for all teens to improve their lifestyle, health and fitness, Cirulli says.

About 13,000 Alachua County teens are eligible for the free memberships, according to the most recent Census estimates.

In April 2003, Gainesville became known as the healthiest community in America when it achieved the first and only Gold Well City award given by the Wellness Councils of America. Headed up by Gainesville Health & Fitness Centers, and with the support of Shands HealthCare and the Gainesville-area Chamber of Commerce, 21 businesses comprising 60 percent of the city’s workforce became involved in the Gold Well City effort. As of May 2009, Gainesville remains the only city in the country to reach the achievement.