Participants in the Wellfit Girls programming sit in a circle. (Photo: Neubek Photographers, courtesy of Brooke Spencer.)
Avorie Anderson was so taken with her 2017 experience in Wellfit Girls’ Summit Sisters program that, now, she’d like to work for the nonprofit after college.
The junior aeronautical science major at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University heard about the program when a new student transferred to Lely High School who had, herself, been through the program.
“The only thing that I knew about it was that it was partially a fitness program and, at the end, they went to Peru,” Anderson said. “I wound up falling head over heels for the program.”
The nonprofit, which was founded by Jill Wheeler, is heading into its eighth year, said executive director Brooke Spencer. Wellfit Girls offers two main programs: a three-week-long summer day camp; a Wellfit Adventure Camp; and a five-month leadership, fitness and empowerment program for high school girls in Lee and Collier counties called Summit Sisters. Both programs opt for a small cohort of about 12-15 girls.
The summer camp is geared toward middle- and high-school girls, and touches on leadership, fitness and empowerment through activities like yoga, self-expression, team building exercises and meditation.
The Summit Sisters program is catered to high-school girls where participants meet twice a week from January to May. The culminating expedition has shifted from international to domestic, taking girls to a mountainous region of the United States like Colorado or Utah.
“We wanted to lower costs, serve more girls and expand programming,” Spencer said.
Summit Sisters became a kind of family Anderson had never experienced before.
“None of us knew each other except for two girls because they were sisters … We all, very quickly, became a sisterhood. It was a safe space and we had so much fun,” she said. “It was the first time in my entire life that I felt like that.”
Participants in the 2020 Wellfit Adventure Camp visited Georgia. (Photo: Neubek Photographers, courtesy of Brooke Spencer.)
COVID-19 could have ruined much of the programming, though the nonprofit adjusted its program to be digitally-focused.
“As soon as COVID happened, we shifted to virtual programming seamlessly,” she said.
But the coronavirus did affect the Summit Sisters’ culminating experience. The planned trip to Montana was no longer an option. Staff gave the cohort different options, and they chose a 7-day virtual expedition that ended with a 36-hour “solo.” Each girl had their own, socially distanced tent in LaBelle where they stayed in silence and, instead of speaking to one another, sat by themselves and reflected.
“They’re really processing and contemplating things they don’t often take the time to sit through,” Spencer said.
Debby Frenkel has seen the nonprofit grow from the beginning. She planned to co-lead programs with Wheeler, but a breast cancer diagnosis meant she had to step away. Now, however, she’s the president of the nonprofit’s board.
“The biggest thing that I learned is that this is a really important need in our community and for girls. I wish I would have had something like this when I was a teen girl,” she said. “When you are in a group of supportive, loving people who are pushing you to be a better you, that’s a pretty awesome place to be.”
The participants become leaders, she said.
“They have more self-esteem, they are more confident, and they take that back and they’re now examples to other girls and younger people and even to their families,” Frankel said.
Since her own time in the program, Anderson joined the alumnae program, Wellfit Connects, and eventually returned as a mentor. Her biggest lessons, she said, were in leadership.
“You can lead from the back of the pack, you can lead up front, or you can just show up and be a positive person and have the backs of other people and still show up as a leader,” she said. “It’s amazing to see (participants) step forward and they find their light.”
When Spencer talks about Wellfit Girls, excitement creeps into her voice.
“This is my home, and I would love to see every high school girl in Collier County excited and wanting to participate in this program,” she said.
Summit Sisters applications opened Oct. 1. For more info, visit wellfitgirls.org.
Andrew Atkins is a Naples Daily News features reporter. Contact him via email at [email protected] To support work like Andrew’s, please consider subscribing: https://cm.naplesnews.com/specialoffer/
Read or Share this story: https://www.naplesnews.com/story/life/2020/10/02/wellfit-girls-empowers-through-leadership-skills-and-fitness/5853311002/