By leaps and bounds
Two young men take on childhood obesity with a free fitness program that’s fun — and fierce
Oh, great — another initiative against childhood obesity. (Yawn.)
No! Jump for Joy is different! Seriously! Just ask co-founder Anthony Alegrete.
“What’s the most-hated class in school?” (He doesn’t wait.) “Yeah, that’s right: P.E. Because it’s boring! We make it fun and cool for kids to be active, healthy and fit.”
Jump for Joy isn’t trying to up the coolness factor of dodge ball. Instead, it’s reinventing group fitness for kids using two core principles: 1. Incorporate live music, celebrity appearances and other fun into themed programs that are accessible to all; and 2. Get the parents into the game to create a family culture that fosters permanent change.
Sounds like a good plan, and it seems to be working. The true secret to Jump for Joy’s success, however, may be the enthusiasm of Alegrete and co-founder Branden Collinsworth. As Helen Goodale, the mother of two regular participants, puts it, “They’re there because they want to be, and it shows.”
Cooler than Facebook
The latest Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stats show childhood obesity on the fast train to pandemicville. In 2010, the CDC estimated that some 17 percent of American kids age 2-19 were obese. That’s nearly three times the rate in 1980 and adds up to around 12.5 million obese children and teens. Here at home, the Trust for America’s Health report, “F as in Fat,” found that 11 percent of Nevada high school students were obese as of 2009, and 15 percent of children as of 2007, the latest data available.
The problem isn’t just being fat. Obesity is linked to a range of health issues, from diabetes and breathing problems, to high blood pressure and cholesterol. Oh, and it’s a socioeconomic issue too: The lower the income of the child’s household, the more likely he is to be obese, the CDC found.
In reaction, a few years ago, both the public and private sector began bombing the problem with a barrage of programs, such as First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move campaign — the group behind the “Play an hour a day” ads at bus stops — and, locally, the Southern Nevada Health District’s Get Healthy Clark County initiative.
Concerned parties like Alegrete and Collinsworth could hardly miss the need for a sports and fitness program for Southern Nevada kids. As experts quoted in Jump for Joy’s YouTube videos frequently point out, physical education in public schools is on the decline; public parks are considered unsafe for kids without adults; and parents are increasingly unavailable. Kids whose families can’t afford soccer league or gymnastics classes, Collinsworth says, are stuck at home with the electronic nanny.
“Who are we competing against?” he says. “Video games, Facebook, the Internet. So, we needed to be cooler than that.”
[HEAR MORE: Is Las Vegas getting fatter? Hear experts weigh in on " KNPR's State of Nevada."]
Alegrete, 30, and Collinsworth, 26, channeled their barely-inner-children to debut Jump for Joy as a three-station, body-mind-soul-themed fitness day for students at a charter school. Over the past year and a half, that format evolved into Camp Jump. Held every few weeks at parks and rec centers around the Las Vegas Valley, each camp has a theme — say, football. Alegrete and Collinsworth find stars in this field to lead participants in activities and exercises — say, Philadelphia Eagles corner back Gerard Lawson, who taught the fundamentals of football and how to catch, throw and kick at the June 11 camp.
“I’ve never seen such great exposure to so many different sports,” says Goodale, whose 4-year-old daughter Hannah and 5-year-old daughter Roben attend Camp Jump regularly. “It gives kids a chance to find out what they might like and be good at.”
Camps have featured local firefighters, martial arts experts, soccer players, Strong Man competitors and UFC fighters — all doing their thing to music provided by DJ Miss Joy, currently appearing at Mix Lounge in Mandalay Bay. And because Alegrete and Collinsworth understood that obesity is a family problem, they brought in nutritionist and lifestyle coach Bill Sifert to work with parents while kids play.
“Bill is a very important part of the program,” Goodale says. “A lot of the parents are overweight themselves. In order to conquer obesity, they need this information.” She says Sifert has showed her lots of useful stuff, like how to pack a lunch that’s cheaper and healthier than what’s available at school.
Goodale considers Jump for Joy a godsend to her daughters, especially Roben, who was born prematurely and has since suffered from a variety of health problems; notably asthma and Noonan’s syndrome. Hannah has asthma too, and both girls have been excluded from most school and team sports, to their mother’s dismay.
“At Jump for Joy, they see (Roben) as a normal kid,” Goodale says. “She can have fun and participate no matter what. If she has to take a break, they help her do what she can, so she’s still part of the team.”
The program’s impact on the family has extended beyond the time spent at Camp Jump, according to Goodale. She and her husband installed an above-ground pool in their back yard this summer and have been teaching their daughters to swim.
“We do a lot more things together,” she says, adding that Jump for Joy will be on their family’s social calendar as long as it’s available. “Anthony assured us they want us to be there, and they’ll never charge us. Kids and parents really need these kinds of things in this economy. We just can’t afford organized sports right now.”
Camp Jump is free for participants. Jump for Joy Foundation is a 501(c)3 nonprofit, and both co-founders say they’re not in it for the money. They have other businesses for that. Still, keeping a hundred people occupied for a couple hours in a public venue every few weeks takes time and money. How do they do it?
The Alegrete-Collinsworth combo is like a superhero duo minus the masks and tights. Alegrete, a self-described team-builder whose mind is always in the entrepreneurial state, won the Nevada Center for Entrepreneurship and Technology’s 2011 Governor’s Cup in the college undergraduate category — a $20,000 prize.
Collinsworth overcame a tough childhood to earn a GED from Job Corps, an associate’s degree from CSN and bachelor’s degree in interpersonal communication from UNLV. He’s now working on a master’s degree in positive psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, a program that he says allows him to attend classes in Philadelphia one week a month, and spend the rest of his time in Las Vegas developing Jump for Joy as a study project.
The two met in 2009 at UNLV, where Collinsworth was Alegrete’s personal trainer. Several years ago, Alegrete had set aside the name Jump for Joy in honor of his childhood nickname, “Jump.” He knew he wanted a business with that name someday, but wasn’t sure what it would be.
“Branden was training me,” Alegrete recalls. “I was seeing results, getting healthy. I saw that he had a talent like nobody else. I thought, if he had just the right infrastructure and management behind him, we could take it to the moon. He was doing what we do now, a fitness camp, but for adults. I started helping him with that, his business model, website … and I realized we should be doing it for kids.”
Move it, kid
The Jump for Joy plan hatched quickly. Alegrete says he’d always wanted to start a nonprofit to help children; Collinsworth, for his part, understands from personal experience the importance of sports and fitness in a child’s life.
“My family had some hardship, and we became homeless for a while,” he says. “Sports were so important to me during that time. It’s what led me to be a trainer. I realized that through fitness, you can elevate your mind and body.”
Besides earning a bachelor’s degree in business from UNLV, Alegrete is running the business that won him the Governor’s Cup, Eighteen At Eighteen, which offers teenagers how-to guides as Smartphone apps. Collinsworth continues to run his adult boot camps and do personal training.
The two boot-strapped Jump for Joy with their own cash. They’ve held a couple fundraisers, but efficiency and partnerships are what really keep the operation going, Alegrete says. Clear Channel donated billboard space for advertising; Boys & Girls Clubs of Las Vegas provides space and promotes Camp Jump; valley schools invite Jump for Joy to family fitness nights; Touro University students do fitness tests and parent programs; and celebrities donate their time to the cause.
“What most people do with $10, we can do with $1 and make it look like it cost $20,” Alegrete jokes.
After their launch in the charter school, Alegrete and Collinsworth did their first event on their own. Only three kids showed up. Not to be discouraged, the pair plowed forward.
“The second camp, it was triple. The third, double that,” Alegrete says. “People started contacting us to be a part of it, and it just started snowballing. Within four months, we had nine directors on our board. ... We built 2,000 friends on Facebook.”
He estimates they get as many as 100 kids at their busiest camps now, including a core group of 25 that follow them around the city.
Not surprisingly, things change rapidly at Jump for Joy. Camps have a fitness component for parents, and Alegrete is envisioning a holistic wellness experience for the entire family. He’s looking for sponsors to grow the operation.
“We could do so much more,” he says. “The possibilities are endless.”