A struggling for-profit health club that Darren Malachi and his wife, Virginia, opened last summer in Danbury, CT, is now a nonprofit facility that Malachi says can better serve its low-income members. But it isn’t easy. Malachi is struggling to bring in donations so he can keep the Motivators Recreational Group club open.
“I am still running the club and paying the operational expenses out of my pocket,” Malachi says.
The problem is not in attracting people to the gym but in attracting members who can afford to pay gym fees, Malachi says. The club gained its nonprofit status in December and is now run like a fitness charity.
People who use the club are asked to pay a $20-per-month donation, but those who cannot afford the donation are not turned away. Improving the health of kids, adults and the obese is too important, Malachi says, adding that many of these people are victims of their environment.
The people who can benefit the most from exercise and good nutrition are the ones who cannot afford it, Malachi says, noting that many of his members cannot even afford the fees at the community rec center and YMCA down the street.
He pays the salary of some staff out of his own pocket, but paying the bills is difficult. Some people from the community volunteer at his club because they believe in what he is doing, he says. A nutritionist from the local hospital comes in every other week to teach a nutrition class.
The club has been getting referrals from the community hospital and health centers.
“They love what we are doing,” Malachi says.
The facility is small and basic, but it offers individualized programs in a family-oriented environment. The club has fitness equipment, an exercise dance floor and sponsored outdoor activities. The best thing the club offers is motivation and education, he says.
“Families with low incomes don’t eat well,” Malachi says. “We teach our members how to be healthy when they are on food stamps, and that they can drink water instead of buying that 99-cent bottle of soda. We teach portion control and do weigh-ins and things like that.”
He is especially concerned with the childhood obesity problem.
“We had one kid come to us who was eight years old and 268 pounds,” Malachi says. “He had diabetes and used to suffer from blackouts. Now he is about 183 pounds and no longer suffering from blackouts, and he has been taken off his diabetes medicine.”
Malachi overcame his own issues with diabetes and high blood pressure by losing more than 60 pounds and exercising regularly. That experience spurred him to become a certified trainer so he could help others with similar issues.
Malachi says his nonprofit club is fulfilling a need in the community by helping people who are living paycheck to paycheck and who lack knowledge about nutrition.
“My mission is to keep the club running as long as possible with my own money until the donations start coming in,” says Malachi, who plans to set up fundraisers in March or April.