Kora Blair and Gina Carney instruct students on how to use the new interactive “sport wall” inside Healthworks at Codman, a partnership between Healthworks Fitness Centers and Codman Square Health Center. (Photo courtesy of Healthworks)
It’s Friday afternoon and children are lining up to enter Healthworks at Codman in Dorchester’s Codman Square to watch demonstrations on the “sport wall” — a light-up, interactive wall that keeps score and has buttons to encourage movement for different games. The children also excitedly move to the beat of Xerdance, a wall-sized interactive game where agility skills are required to keep up with the music and dance steps.
Little did these children know that they were playing an important role for Healthworks — helping to choose a Kids Director for the soon-to-be-opened Healthworks at Codman, a partnership between Healthworks Fitness Centers and Codman Square Health Center.
“The new center is just the first step to teaching kids that a serious cardiovascular workout can be fun,” said Mark Harrington, president of Healthworks Fitness Centers. “The Kids Center will also work with children in areas of strength, agility and coordination. Hopefully, it will begin to change the sedentary lifestyles that exist in today’s youth. Conclusively, exercise is a major factor in helping to combat the juvenile diabetes epidemic in the inner city today, not to mention childhood obesity.”
Healthworks Fitness Centers Inc., which has been locally owned for over 30 years, formed the Healthworks Foundation in 1998. With five locations and over 18,000 members, Healthworks operates fitness centers exclusively for women. Revenues from Healthworks Fitness Centers, as well as significant in-kind donations from the Healthworks team and members, help to fund the Healthworks Foundation.
The foundation currently operates a not-for-profit club free of charge to about 1,000 women at St. Mary’s in Upham’s Corner, Dorchester. Sometime next month, the second, much larger facility will open in Codman Square at 450 Washington Street in Dorchester. In total, Healthworks Fitness Centers will contribute almost $400,000 to fund the foundation’s various activities this year and over $1 million in total since its inception.
“This is what we do, it’s part of our culture,” said Harrington. “We have been an extremely successful local company for over 30 years. There came a point in time where it was our turn to give back and we wouldn’t have it any other way. Each and every member of the Healthworks team, almost 500 strong, has a part in this. Countless members volunteer their efforts as well.
“Together, we can make a difference in the lives of others, and with us, it’s delivering fitness to the inner city, where we hope to change the lives of women and children who are at risk,” he continued. “We are providing them with exercise, nutrition and a healthy lifestyle — things which have never been affordable for them, or even an option.”
In 1997, Healthworks was embattled in a sexual discrimination lawsuit for operating single gender fitness centers. The court ruled that Healthworks was in violation of Massachusetts’ public accommodations law. After failing in its legal battle, Healthworks was able to file and pass a state law that allowed for single gender fitness centers.
“The very existence of Healthworks is due to [the] foresight of the state Legislature, which recognized the significance of exercise and the necessity of allowing women to exercise in a safe environment,” said Harrington.
Further inspired by women supporting each other in each of their five fitness facilities, the Healthworks Foundation opened its first nonprofit fitness center seven years ago at St. Mary’s Center in Dorchester. With the influence of the “women helping women” mindset, the foundation fulfills its mission “to fund outreach projects and non-profit fitness centers that lead to the health, betterment, and empowerment of women and children in the Dorchester community.”
The foundation also partners with other nonprofit organizations in the Greater Boston region that address the needs of women and children in the areas of health, wellness and athletics, violence prevention and survival, and economic empowerment through financial contributions and volunteer efforts.
By giving opportunities for both the well and unwell to participate in regular, low cost fitness programs, it is the hope of the Healthworks Foundation that deconditioned people will improve and those in good health will be able to develop a lifelong fitness plan. To date, Healthworks at St. Mary’s has served over 5,000 women in the community through its fitness and support programming.
“I feel absolutely on top of the world physically and emotionally,” said Lucy, a member of Healthworks at St. Mary’s since 2002. “When I walk out of the Foundation Center’s door, I can face what this world has to give me.”
Now, with Healthworks at Codman, the Healthworks Foundation is expanding its market beyond women to include children’s fitness. Healthworks at Codman is located at 450 Washington Street in Dorchester. For more information, call 617-825-2800 or visit www.healthworksfoundation.org.
Hannah Kempski is the marketing director of Healthworks Fitness Centers.