News from our favorite fitness non-profit.

Operation FitKids (OFK) has touched the lives of thousands of children and their communities during the past 11 years, but there is still so much to do. And as children grow, so must an organization. That is why some major, exciting program changes are taking place at Operation FitKids.

Traditionally, the main goal of the organization was to provide children with functional, fully outfitted fitness facilities consisting of reconditioned commercial equipment. With these facilities in place, usually at high schools and community centers, the operators have gone on to create individual programs that suit their users' needs.

For example, during the last several years, San Diego High School has created a community-based program around its Operation FitKids facility. During the day, the facility is open to students and staff and has become a focal point for their physical education and athletic programs. After school and on the weekends, the facility is open to the community, for a small fee, under the watchful eye of the well-trained staff.

Although this program has been wildly successful, Operation FitKids and the American Council on Exercise (ACE) want to assure the same high quality at all sites. Because of this, Operation FitKids is adding several new components to the program. Future Operation FitKids sites will have the opportunity to include not only commercial fitness equipment, but also educational materials, staff training, mentoring and community partnering.

The first mentoring program will take place at Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis High School in New York City. This site, which will open in conjunction with Club Industry East on June 18, will draw mentoring support from the New York City Fire Department and the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF). Once a week for three months, local fire fighters will work with students at the school to help them build strength, endurance and self-esteem. The hope is that this will be a model for future collaborations between Operation FitKids and fire departments in other communities.

Operation FitKids is also developing a community-partnering program, through which it will work with a consortium of local club groups, equipment manufacturers and retailers, and other organizations to outfit sites in their surrounding area. In New York City, Town Sports International/New York Sports Club and Gym Source will be the community partners for the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis High School site, which is located in Manhattan.

Another exciting mile-stone to take place at Club Industry East will be the first public appearance of Operation FitKids new celebrity spokesperson, Eric Nies. A member of the first Real World series on MTV 11 years ago, Nies has become an advocate for children and their health and wellness. He is also serious about his own health. During the 1990s he hosted a popular dance show on MTV, The Grind, for three years. He also hosted a series of dance-based workout videos based on the show.

Nies became involved with Operation FitKids after meeting Ken Germano last November in New York City at a taping of the Queen Latifah Show devoted to children and obesity. Nies had been brought aboard to mentor one of the children selected to take part in a six-month program to lose weight and improve health and self-esteem. According to Nies, as of March, the 10-year-old girl he was working with, who weighed more than 200 pounds in November, had already lost 25 pounds!

Operation FitKids thanks Nies for committing to children and to the organization. His motivation and dedication will go a long way toward helping Operation FitKids fulfill its mission of enriching the lives of America's youth with enhanced education for healthy lifestyles and increased opportunities for physical activity.

For information on providing financial assistance and/or commercial equipment, or to learn about internship and mentoring opportunities in your community, please contact Jeanne Dierickx at (800) 825-3636, ext. 757 or at jeanned@acefitness.org. All donations are tax deductible. Financial donations may be sent to Operation FitKids, 5820 Oberlin Drive, #102, San Diego, CA 92121-3787.