By Karen L. Nugent, TELEGRAM & GAZETTE CORRESPONDENT
LUNENBURG, Friday, November 22, 2013 – A shy, introverted Grade 6 girl morphed into a wholehearted participant in a fitness program at the Boys & Girls Club of Lunenburg within a year — a program that will continue thanks to a $5,000 grant from the Worcester-based Reliant Medical Group Foundation.
According to Director Michelle Belleza, the girl initially preferred to play by herself, even at board games and pool. Eventually, club employees realized that she enjoyed doing crafts and was encouraged to use that as way to inch her way into group activities.
Slowly, according to Ms. Belleza, she began engaging with other children and one day joined FitClub, one of the organization’s most popular activities.
The girl went on to become the secretary of the club, collecting feedback from other children about their top interests.
“She joined FitClub one day, and it was like she shed her cocoon and all of a sudden was a butterfly,” Ms. Belleza said. She was happy and enthusiastic – excited to play.”
FitClub is part of Triple Play: Healthy Minds, Bodies, and Souls, a social and recreational program that the club has offered for several years to children in Grades 6-10.
The grant from Reliant, formerly Fallon Clinic, will be used to continue Triple Play.
The club, situated at 15 Memorial Drive in the town’s center, has about 150 members, with an average daily attendance of 45 children — up to 70 on Fridays — in its after-school program.
Formerly called the Chester Mossman Teen Center, the club was founded to provide a safe, supervised place for adolescents.
Ms. Belleza said the after-school program is all that is offered because of budget constraints, but it is hoped that a year-round program will be possible.
The club is conducting a fundraising campaign in hopes of reaching a $35,000 goal by the end of the year to be eligible for another grant.
A total of $100,000 was awarded by Reliant to 15 Central Massachusetts organizations, according to Kelsa Zereski, director of philanthropy at Reliant. She said $5,000 was the average amount given, and all grants went to nonprofit organizations within the Reliant service area, which includes a facility in Fitchburg.
Much of the money, she said, is intended to prevent childhood obesity and encourage healthy living, but organizations which offer access to health care, including mental health and elderly services, were also awarded grants.
“Part of our newly enhanced vision is to deliver a meaningful grant-making program for the benefit of area charities and the people they serve,” she said.
The Boys & Girls Club of Lunenburg was one of the organizations selected, Ms. Zereski said, because of its established record of success with Triple Play.
Ms. Belleza said the club, a nonprofit organization, did not have a previous relationship with Reliant, but applied for the grant because its goals matched their programs to encourage children to make healthy choices and stay active.
Along with those choices, she said, Triple Play aims to help children build positive self-identities and develop strong moral character.
The fitness activities comprise recreational games such as kickball, tag, and relay races. Educational games, craft projects and science experiments, she said, are in place and working.
There are also monthly challenges pertaining to daily activities and good manners. Twice a week, Shane Poirier, owner of Lunenburg’s Planet Fitness, visits the club to lead kids in activities Ms. Belleza described as “gym class meets summer camp.”
But she struggled with the concept of having a “healthy soul,” part of the Triple Play title.
“For us, it doesn’t mean anything spiritual,” she said. “It means having a healthy self-identity — a strong moral character.”
Ms. Belleza said projects such as making holiday cards for Meals on Wheels recipients, or food drive collections, serve that purpose.
“But more than that, we just help kids appreciate the importance of being part of a team, a group greater than just oneself, as well as encourage leadership to build self-esteem,” she said.