A new after-school program at the Johnson Crossing Academic Center is aiming to instill important, lifelong lessons for its youth centered around wellness and exercise.
GenerationFit, a program created by Executive Director Cheri Dickmeyer, initially began in the Omaha Public Schools district. Dickmeyer said she decided to try to bring the program, which centers its curriculum around promoting physical activity and wellness while also addressing important topics such as bullying and diversity and inclusion, to Fremont after realizing there was not many opportunities for students to participate in activities like the ones the program offers.
GenerationFit is presented by FITGirl, Inc., the company Dickmeyer founded currently located in Waterloo.
“I spoke to my cousin, who is also a teacher, about how many kids that are on free and reduced lunch and I was suprised to hear the number and thought: ‘Well those kids don’t have a lot of opportunities to get involved in sports or to stay physically active, so let’s try and put something together.”
Dickmeyer immediately reached out to Midland University to gauge interest in finding student athletes to serve as mentors for the program and found that many students have to travel upwards of 50 miles to find community service opportunities.
“I thought this would be a great way to get them going,” Dickmeyer said.
In 2020, Dickmeyer quickly began applying for grants to fund the program. In addition to a $1,000 grant from the Fremont Walmart, Dickmeyer received a $12,000 grant from the Fremont Area Community Foundation. Those funds have secured the progam’s first year of operation in Fremont.
FACF Executive Director Melissa Diers said any project centered around improving or enhancing opportunities for healthy activity among the city’s youth makes for an attractive program.
“Projects that support the youth are going to be a top priority for the FACF,” Diers said. “We feel that this particular project will enhance the existing efforts underway through the school district to engage youth outside regular school hours with safe and productive programming.”
Dickmeyer said the funding from Walmart and the FACF is “huge.”
“This is something that takes a lot of people a lot of time to put together,” she said. “We’re not just a PE class. We don’t just go out there and let them run around the gym.”
The JCAC GenerationFIT program will also serve as a testing ground for Dickmeyer. It will be the first gender-neutral program offered by FITGirl. Previously, the program was tailored exclusively for girls. Now, COVID-19 has forced Dickmeyer and her team to re-structure the way they offer their services.
While working with OPS schools, Dickmeyer was told that it wouldn’t be possible to separate students to participate in the program based on their gender due to COVID-19 concerns.
That forced Dickmeyer to rethink the way she offered her course. Working with an intern who received a degree in public health, Dickmeyer restructured her program to include both boys and girls.
Dickmeyer said the results of the change have led to more interest from students in Fremont.
Currently, 36 students are involved in the program in Fremont. If it wasn’t being offered as a gender-neutral program, Dickmeyer said that number would drop to around 15.
“So, we’ve got this brand new curriculum that we’re using for the very first time at Fremont that is based off the same principles,” she said. “So we’re not just doing physical fitness. We spend 15 to 20 minutes with a topic each week and those topics are things that kids are challenged with at that age group.”
Additionally, Dickmeyer said the athletes who volunteer to serve as mentors at the program help students visualize what their future could look like.
“For instance, in Fremont I think maybe 70% of the kids are Hispanic and I’ve got a lot of lacrosse girls from Midland University that are going to come up and teach them and they are also Hispanic,” Dickmeyer said. “For those girls to see a Latina doing lacrosse, and they are also Latina, is huge. That’s huge for them because they need to see it to believe it.”
Leah Hladik, program director at Fremont Public Schools, said students have taken to the program well in its opening weeks.
“They’re working toward goals, but I think one of the cool things is that they get the chance to talk with Midland students and older youth, so that’s something that they look forward to,” she said.
Hladik said she looks forward to seeing the program progress throughout the year.
“I think we’re looking forward to seeing how the rest of the year goes with the program and, you know, seeing how the kids are benefiting from the curriculum and just seeing where it takes us,” she said. “I think it’s an appropriate offering for the age group, so we’re hoping to see positive outcomes with it.”
With the roots for the program firmly in place, Dickmeyer said she is excited to see students at JCAC realize the importance of using their body, mind and soul to become the best version of themselves.
“That’s what we’re trying to teach them and that’s why it’s not just physical fitness and we’re very unique in that capacity,” she said. “What we’re trying to do is put it all together and get them to understand that you have to master everything, you’ve got to be physically, academically and socially sound. You have to take care of yourself.”