HOLYOKE For 13 city girls, Fridays have been extra special, thanks to a generous anonymous donor.
Earlier in the year, Go FIT, based in Springfield, received an anonymous gift of $5,000 to be used to provide a program to Girls Inc., based in Holyoke. The funding helped secure a six-week intensive fitness program for Girls Inc. as part of its summer youth program, according to Heidi Elizabeth Thomson, M.Ed., director of development and public relations for Girls Inc.
"Over the years, Girls Incorporated of Holyoke and Go FIT have collaborated on a variety of fitness programs," said Thomson during an interview with Reminder Publications. "Our complementary missions provide ample reason for partnership, given our focuses on health education and mentoring for underserved girls."
The summer program was conducted on Friday mornings for six weeks, and girls from ages eight to 12 met with Go FIT mentors and trainers at the Whiting Street Reservoir in the city. The girls each received a new pair of running shoes at the beginning of the program.
Thomson explained that the morning would start off with each girl sharing the different types of physical activity they had engaged in since the week prior, followed by stretching exercises.
"At first I didn't think I could do it, but now when I run I really like it," said Solimar Vasquez, 12. "All the trainers were really nice and had a lot of energy. They helped me because I didn't think I could do it, and they gave me confidence. I would love to do this again."
Chelsey Craig, one of the trainers, noted that each week the girls were more excited about being outside and moving around. She also observed an increase in the girls feeling good about themselves, and said they seemed to be more open to trying new things.
Jomaris Vasquez, 9, backed that statement up with her comments during an interview.
Program Coordinator Laura Hutchinson noted that for her, the best part of the six weeks was the last morning when the girls sprinted like crazy down the trail. This observation made her "so proud" given the first day the girls were all complaining about running. She added that she was always impressed with their positive attitudes and how they cheered each other on.
Lizmariel Ferreri, 12, was among the girls who especially enjoyed learning to work together as a team.
"It felt really good to support each other because we were all at different levels," said Ferreri. "Now I know what to do to get in shape."
The girls were also treated to weekly guest speakers who discussed fitness-related topics such as nutrition and character, as well as relaxation, pilates and yoga. Following the guest speakers, the girls would walk, and then run, for at least 15 to 20 minutes down the trails at the reservoir. On rainy days, the girls practiced in a gym, using hoola hoops and relays as a means of practicing the joy of exercise.
"All of the girls said they would continue exercising beyond the end of the program," said Thomson.
Girls also participating in the fitness program were Cassandra Moquin, 12, Jessica Carrillo, 9, Suem Hernadez, 12, Destinee Bailes, 8, Tenisha Mascowski, 9, Noshkami Carmona, 12, Imaly Vasquez, 9, Alyssa Quinones, 9, Anastacia Torres, 9, Solymar Fraticelli, 11, and Genesis Santos, 8.
Quinones seemed to have summed up the girls' enthusiasm best when she said the program has made her feel strong and has given her the confidence to see that anything is possible.
"This program made me feel strong, like I can do anything," said Quinones. "I had no idea I liked stretching and running. I love getting in shape."
For Torres, she too has a new outlook after participating in the summer exercise program.
"I learned that it is better to be outside exercising then to stay inside and watch TV," she said.
For other girls, the backdrop for the exercise program was also a nice change of scenery.
"I loved being here near the water," said Imaly Vasquez. "It is so beautiful. The trainers were a lot of fun. They were inspirational. I want to be able to run like they do. Someday I will."
For more information on Girls Inc., visit www.girlsincholyoke.org, and for Go FIT, visit www.gofit.org.