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Community Notebook: Menlo mom offers free fitness coaching for at-risk kids

Fundraising event to be held Saturday for Fit Kids program

In January 2011, Ashley Hunter Riley, a Menlo Park resident and mother of four children, read a magazine article about families in the Bay Area that can't afford organized sports for their kids. She decided to do something about it.

Five years ago, she launched Fit Kids, a nonprofit that hires coaches to run after-school fitness programs for kindergarten through second-graders. The program operates at schools in eastern Menlo Park, East Palo Alto and Redwood City where a majority of kids are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch.

"This is an opportunity every child should have," said Hunter Riley, who grew up as an athlete and has four children who enjoy sports.

Not every kid will be an Olympian, but the physical, social, mental and emotional benefits of sports are important for children's development, she said.

Today, Fit Kids works with 228 kids at six elementary schools locally. A "charter" version of the program, which gives instructors the equipment and curriculum to replicate Fit Kids, without providing the coaches, is being adopted at 14 locations, mostly in the Bay Area, but also in New York, Dallas and Los Angeles.

There are two 12-week "seasons" offered each year. During each season, up to 25 kids in each class receive two, one-hour fitness classes each week.

Each class begins with a short nutrition tip. Then, kids go into warmups, where they travel down and back across the field doing exercises like frog jumps or hopping on one leg. Next come the obstacle courses, relay races or fitness games designed to build specific motor skills.

"The benefits are hidden in the fun," she said.

Equipment is colorful, lightweight and intended to help familiarize kids with gym tools without intimidating them, she said.

Coaches can be grad students, personal trainers or others who have the time and skills to coach kids during after-school hours. Lead coaches are paid $40 per class and assistant coaches are paid $20 per class.

She is considering expanding the program to third- through fifth-graders, but made a decision based on limited funding a few years ago to prioritize younger kids to help them make bigger gains.

Fundraiser

A fundraiser for Fit Kids, called "Children's Champions," will be held Saturday, May 21, noon-2 p.m. at Menlo College, 1000 El Camino Real in Atherton.

There will be sports drills and clinics with Stanford University sports teams, autographs and photo opportunities with professional athletes and mascots, and a panel of athletes who will answer questions from the kids.

Nine Stanford teams will participate, as well as Jerry Rice, Zane Beadles and Shayne Skove from the 49ers, and Latavius Murray from the Oakland Raiders.

Lunch will be served and there will be a VIP reception, crafts and other activities.

Tickets are $250 for a family of two adults and up to three kids. Funds raised will be split between Fit Kids and the Wender Weis Foundation.

For more information, visit childrenschampions.org.

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