Holiday Spirit

Fit Kids Foundation Executive Director Ashley Hunter say her favorite part of the program is exercising with the students. Photo by Gino De Grandis/courtesy Fit Kids Foundation.

Posted January 3, 2020

Leveling the Playing Field
Fit Kids Foundation brings fitness programs and skill-building to underserved children

by Sue Dremann

There's a video made for the nonprofit Fit Kids Foundation that warms founder Ashley Hunter's heart. In it, a 7-year-old girl wearing her favorite sequined cat-ears headband is running with a group of children at a playground at Costaño Elementary School in East Palo Alto.

In another shot, Brianna joins other kids in doing frog jumps, jumping jacks, push-ups and squats. When her mother comes to pick her up from the Fit Kids after-school fitness program Brianna proudly demonstrates her jumping jacks.

Brianna's enthusiasm is the kind of response Hunter hoped for when she started Fit Kids in 2011. A Menlo Park resident, Hunter saw that children in east Menlo Park and East Palo Alto schools did not have equal access to strong fitness programs, safe playgrounds or after-school sports teams.

So she founded Fit Kids Foundation to help children ages 4-13 who may otherwise be "couch potatoes" become energetic, confident, outdoors-loving enthusiasts. Through exercise and outdoor games, the program builds kids' fitness, motor skills and social and emotional development.

This year, Fit Kids received a $5,000 grant from the Palo Alto Weekly Holiday Fund so that it could achieve its goals.

Despite Brianna's family's hectic schedule — her parents work separate shifts — they make time for Fit Kids. Brianna's mother takes her to the after-school program Mondays through Wednesdays.

"She tells me she loves it when it's Fit Kids day because she gets to exercise," her mother said in Spanish in the April 2019 video.

Brianna said she had to adjust to the program.

"It was hard when I first started because I didn't know what to do," she said.

Her coach helped her to understand how to do the exercises; she likes the frog jumps, push-ups and jumping jacks the best.

"It feels like I'm sweating everywhere," she said.

Hunter, Fit Kids' executive director, said the foundation initially wanted to launch sports programs at underserved schools, but the leaders soon noticed the children lacked the hand-eye coordination, foot-eye coordination, speed, strength and agility that are necessary for participating in sports.

The fitness scores of children in East Palo Alto were dismal, Hunter said. Only 19% of children in the East Palo Alto Fit Kids program were at the 50% percentile for the Presidential Physical Fitness test standard. At Costaño and Willow Oaks (Menlo Park) elementary schools, 4.6% of participants met the Presidential standard for curl-ups; 17.7% met the standard for push-ups and 43.4% met the standard for the shuttle run, while 33.1% reached the standard for the V-sit, a flexibility exercise, Hunter said.

Without physical fitness skills, children won't be able to participate in team sports when they reach middle school and high school, she said.

"We're providing opportunities for structured physical activity through games, relay races and obstacle courses to make it fun," she said.

Fitness tests are showing the results of the program. During three sessions in 2018-19, 80% of participants could do more curl-ups; 64% did more push-ups, 55% gained more flexibility doing V-sits and 54% ran faster in the shuttle runs, according to Fit Kids data.

Being active is also building the kids' confidence, Hunter said.

To ensure the students have a positive experience, the program incorporates training for its coaches from the Positive Coaching Alliance and the Child Mind Institute on how to encourage students in a constructive and healthful way as well as how to recognize kids' mental health issues.

Fit Kids also has a program at Los Robles Elementary School, but there's no coach to run the program right now. Hunter said it's hard to find coaches in this area.

To reach more children, Fit Kids branched out to teach the curriculum to schools and nonprofits, such as the Boys and Girls Club, where staff members there teach the Fit Kids method. About 600 children are in Fit Kids curricula in the Ravenswood City School District during the school day through these programs, Hunter said.

Willow Oaks and Costaño, where there are 142 children in the after-school program, serve as two innovation centers where Fit Kids analyzes development and program components. As happens with new programs, the children have sometimes challenged the program designers' assumptions.

"We took out jump ropes. The kids couldn't use the jump ropes, so they started to swing them around and could hurt each other," Hunter said.

Though locally rooted with 13 sites in East Palo Alto, the program has grown to serve 15,000 children in East Palo Alto, Redwood City, Oakland, San Jose, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Houston and Las Vegas, according to the Fit Kids website. Hunter, who formerly worked in investment banking, said of the expanding program, "We're excited. We have big goals."

The foundation's goal is to start up to 80 programs beginning in January, particularly in Los Angeles. They hope to establish a regional board, and if successful, the foundation will grow and start other chapters around the country, she said.

Apply for a Holiday Fund Grant

Nonprofits serving children and families may apply for funds by downloading our Grant Application Guidelines and Grant Application Form. Application deadline: 11:59 p.m. on Friday, January 13, 2023.

Make a donation
2022 Recipient Agency

49ers Academy$10,000

AbilityPath$10,000

Able Works$10,000

Ada's Cafe$25,000

Adolescent Counseling Services$7,500

Art in Action$10,000

Bay Area Friendship Circle$5,000

Beyond Barriers Athletic Foundation$5,000

Big Brothers Big Sisters
of the Bay Area
$10,000

Blossom Birth & Family$5,000

Canopy$5,000

CASA of San Mateo County$5,000

Children's Health Council$10,000

Christmas Bureau of Palo Alto$5,000

Community Legal Services in East Palo Alto$10,000

Counseling and Support Services for Youth - CASSY$15,000

DreamCatchers$15,000

East Palo Alto Academy Foundation$10,000

East Palo Alto Charter School$5,000

East Palo Alto Kids Foundation$15,000

East Palo Alto Tennis and Tutoring$15,000

East Palo Alto YMCA$10,000

Eastside College
Preparatory School
$7,500

EPACENTER$10,000

Family Connections$7,500

Fit Kids Foundation$5,000

Foundation for a
College Education
$10,000

Fresh Approach$10,000

Friends for Youth$5,000

Friends of the Palo Alto Junior Museum & Zoo$10,000

Heart and Home Collaborative$10,000

Hope Horizon East Palo Alto$7,500

Jasper Ridge Farm$5,000

Kara$15,000

Learning Home Volunteers$10,000

Live In Peace$10,000

Magical Bridge Foundation$10,000

Mannakin Theater & Dance$5,000

Marine Science Institute$5,000

Midpen Media Center$7,500

Music in the Schools Foundation$8,000

My New Red Shoes$5,000

New Voices for Youth$5,000

Pacific Art League of Palo Alto$12,000

Palo Alto Art Center Foundation$10,000

Palo Alto Community Child Care $30,000

Palo Alto Players$10,000

Peer Point$20,000

Peninsula Bridge$10,000

Peninsula College Fund$10,000

Peninsula Healthcare Connection$10,000

Peninsula Volunteers$15,000

Peninsula Youth Theatre$5,000

Pursuit of Excellence Scholarship Foundation$20,000

Ravenswood Classroom Partners$20,000

Ravenswood Education Foundation$10,000

Reading Partners
Silicon Valley
$10,000

ReadySetExcel$5,000

Rebuilding Together Peninsula$7,500

Resource Area for
Teaching (RAFT)
$5,000

Rich May Foundation$5,000

Rise Together Education$10,000

Ronald McDonald House$5,000

Rosalie Rendu Center$5,000

Sager Family Farm$5,000

Silicon Valley
Urban Debate League
$7,500

St. Elizabeth Seton School$10,000

TheatreWorks$5,000

UNAFF (United Nations Association Film Festival)$10,000

WeHOPE$15,000

WomenSV$7,500

Youth Community Service$25,000

Child Care Grants

All Five$10,000

Covenant Children's Center$10,000

Creative Montessori
Learning Center
$10,000

Grace Lutheran Preschool$10,000

Palo Alto Friends Nursery School$10,000

Parents Nursery School$10,000


As of December 7th, 165 donors have contributed $145,397 to the Holiday Fund.
* indicates amount withheld at donor's request

24 Anonymous7,075
Eileen & Rick Brooks1,000
Maureen O'Connor150
Martha Shirk1,200
Jennifer DiBrienza & Jesse Dorogusker1,000
Diane and Brandy Sikic*
Alicia Newman100
Dorsey & Katherine Bass300
Edie Kirkwood1,000
Micri & Bob Cardelli*
George & Betsy Young*
Diana Diamond1,000
Brigid Barton 2,000
Korol Family250
Lawrence R. Yang & Jennifer W. Kuan10,000
Anthony & Susan Wood25,000
Lynn and Andrew Newman*
Katherine Bryant100
Barbara Riper*
Sally & Craig Nordlund500
Carolyn Caddes*
Kroymann Family250
Marian Adams100
Roy & Carol Blitzer*
Elaine Hah1,500
Retired*
Julie & Dan Lythcott-Haims250
Tess & Eric Byler150
Denise and Jeff Simons*
Keith and Linda Clarke*
Harriet Benson10,000
Arthur Keller250
Cynthia Costell100
George & Betsy Bechtel200
Ellen M. Lillington200
Tom & Nancy Fiene200
Tom & Patricia Sanders*
Amado & Deborah Padilla250
Margo Sensenbrenner*
Merele McClure250
Joanne Koltnow400
Christina Kenrick1,000
Richard Johnsson5,000
Xiaofan Lin100
Bonnie and Bryan Street*
Thomas Rindfleisch*
Jody Maxmin*
Diane and Joe Rolfe*
Diane Finkelstein250
Linda & Steve Boxer*
David & Betsy Fryberger400
Jan Aarts*
Judith Appleby300
Donald Barr150
Charles & Barbara Stevens*
Edward Kanazawa300
Karen A. Latchford*
Kingsley Jack250
Richard Zuanich150
Patti Yanklowitz and Mark Krasnow100
Denise Savoie and Darrell Duffie*
Elizabeth Salzer & Richard Baumbartner*
Marcia & Michael Katz200
Scott and Jan Kilner500
Dorothy Saxe100
Kieschnick family1,000
Barbara Klein*
Dorothy Deringer200
Art and Peggy Stauffer500
Ed & Linda DeMeo500
Penny & Greg Gallo500
Scottie Zimmerman100
Fran Codispoti250
Ted & Ginny Chu*
The Dong Family200
Bill Reller*
Harry E & Susan B Hartzell100
Ann Burrell & Charles Smith*
Janis Ulevich*
Theradep Technologies500
Jack and Susan Thomas*
Julie and Jon Jerome*
Andrea B. Smith100
Leif and Sharon Erickson500
The Havern Family5,000
Gwen Luce and Family*
Bruce Campbell*
Freddy & Jan Gabus250
Richard & Pat Douglas50
Susan & Doug Woodman150
Donald Price*
Judy Ousterhout*
Judy Kramer*
Kingston Duffie & Elizabeth Schwerer500
Roger & Joan Warnke300
Jerry & Bobbie Wagger*
John Keller100
Mahlon & Carol Hubenthal*
Margaret Forsyth and Glenn Rennels*
Charlotte Johansen200
Leo & Marlys Keoshian250
Donna Silverberg100
Paul & Jane Millman250
In Memory Of

Walter Dean*
Er-Ying and Y.C. Yen250
Jack Sutorius750
Michele Wilson*
Bob Donald350
Leonard Ware*
Robert Spinrad100
August King*
Bob Simoni500
David W. Mitchell*
Paul Seaver*
Gerald Berner300
Ian Halliday250
Ray Bacchetti300
Marie and Don Snow200
Andre Jones *
Jim and Dottie Mellberg*
Ruth & Chet Johnson*
David Sager100
Ted Linden200
Lily & Philip Gottheiner150
Chet Brown*
Phil Zschokke200
Nellie Perna Bartello100
Bob Donald*
Steven T. Ross100
In Honor Of

Marilyn Sutorius750
Darla Tupper3,922
Leo & Sylvia Breidenbach and Thomas & Louise Phinney1,000
Polly Caddes*
Joe Simitian*
Gabby Perez & Logan Marsh250
Dr Ron Radzilowski*
Businesses & Organizations

Angelo Family Foundation 5,000
Palo Alto Business Park*
Hearts & Minds Activity Center75
Alta Mesa Cemetery & Funeral Home2,500
Peery Foundation10,000
Arrillaga Foundation10,000

Past Holiday Fund Grant Recipients

2018-2019 | 2017-2018 | 2016-2017 | 2015-2016 | 2014-2015 | 2013-2014 | 2012-2013 | 2011-2012 | 2010-2011 | 2009-2010 | 2008-2009 | 2007-2008 | 2006-2007 | 2005-2006 | 2004-2005 | 2003-2004 | 2002-2003 | 2001-2002 | 2000-2001 | 1999-2000