Jess Rossi Donations

Urban Perform

Please consider donating to support fitness and exercise in Vine City, English Avenue and Washington Park. Thank you!

My UP Story 

Over the past 16 months, my career in public affairs has shifted toward wellness. Professionally, I’ve moved into human resources to lead Cox Enterprises’ Wellness function. I’ve added health coach, long distance running coach, personal trainer and yoga teacher to my resume. Personally, I’ve dedicated many weekends and vacation days as Chair of the Board of Directors of a non-profit gym, Urban Perform, in one of Atlanta’s poorest and most crime-ridden neighborhoods.
I need your help and support to keep the gym thriving. Below is more information about the organization, its future direction, why I got involved and what I’ve learned. It’s lengthy, but gives you the full story.
If you are able, please consider donating financially to support my work and desire to serve this community by ensuring their residents have access to a safe place to care for their bodies.
Board Chair, Urban Perform
Wellness Manager, Cox Enterprises
About Urban Perform
Urban Perform (UP) is a nonprofit gym serving Atlanta’s Vine City, English Avenue and Washington Park communities. UP creates health conscious changes for families in underserved communities by making fitness accessible and affordable. The gym facility offers quality equipment and group fitness classes at a price set by the community. Youth under 18 years old work out for free. Your first visit is always free. After that, adults pay $2 per visit or $15 per month. UP also teaches youth fitness programs at KIPP Ways Elementary School, Brown Middle School and Westside Atlanta Charter School.
With the new construction of Mercedes Benz Stadium, the Westside communities of Atlanta have been a focus for federal grantsmedia attention, land use action plans, housing programs and more. Check out this picture over Vine City Park – boarded up housing on one side and the stadium looming in the other.
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The Only Gym in the Community
Urban Perform is the only full-service gym serving 30314 (Vine CIty, English Avenue and Washington Park). It was started because residents asked for a safe place to workout. In Downtown Atlanta, there are 15 full-service gyms and in Buckhead, there are 52. Residents in Buckhead, a much wealthier neighborhood 8 miles north, are expected to live 13 years longer than those in 30314, largely due to health care knowledge and access.
Years ago, there was a YMCA in the community that was not able to keep it’s doors open. We believe it couldn’t stay open for 2 main reasons: 1) The Y operates on a sliding income scale, which requires members to prove their income before being able to workout. Many community members do not value exercise in the first place, and some may not have steady work. The income requirement served as a barrier to entry for low-income earners. 2) There were not enough high-income earners in the community to balance the financial needs of the Y.
We believe the model of Urban Perform pre-dates a YMCA. We remove all barriers and provide a safe and encouraging place for residents to learn how to care for their bodies. We sincerely hope that one day, this community has wide and varied access to fitness and that we will no longer be needed.
Where UP is Going 
Our mission is to provide accessible fitness for residents of 30314 (Vine City, English Avenue and Washington Park). We will be opening a new gym at the Good Samaritan Health Center on Donald Lee Hollowell Parkway – construction starts soon! Our current space, a renovated gas station on Joseph E. Boone Blvd, is consistently packed. Without air conditioning or heat and with some plumbing challenges, we’re excited to partner with Good Sam to offer a larger space with HVAC, multiple bathrooms and a separate group fitness room! We’re also growing our youth programs, with a focus in middle schools, in partnership with After School All-Stars.
Our Supporters and Partners
Over the past few years, we’ve been blessed to receive in-kind or financial support from the following generous supporters and partners: Arby’s Foundation, Atlanta Falcons Youth Foundation, Bright Wings Foundation, Corporate Sports, Cox Enterprises, FIT: To Be, Infinity Yoga, John & Mary Franklin Foundation, Richard C Munroe Foundation, Miami Dolphins, National Football League, Portable On Demand Storage, Tri-Kids, West Stride, United Way
Why I Got Involved
I first visited Urban Perform in 2012, a few months after the first gym space opened in the warehouse of a local church. At the time, I was coaching Girls on the Run in Johns Creek, a wealthy suburb of Atlanta. My challenge of the week with the 3rd, 4th and 5th grade girls in my group were their constant complaints that we wouldn’t let them run with their iPhones to listen to music.
I arrived at UP to tour the space and observe a Zumba class. Among the 10ish people in the class, one young girl stood out to me. She was around the same age as the girls I was coaching in Girls on the Run. She showed up for class in flip-flops (she didn’t own tennis shoes), and the dirtiest white t-shirt and shorts I’d ever seen. I’m certain my mother would have never let me wear that around the house, let alone in public. I watched the joy on this little girl’s face as the class started – she was happy to be among friends and to dance along in class.
And there, in that essence was what I immediately loved about Urban Perform. It’s a place where people can show up as themselves, be accepted and loved, and learn how to take care of their bodies safely. That night, I drove home in tears. A seed was planted inside me that night – and knew that I wanted to help people care for their body, mind and spirit by providing accessibility, education, accountability and relevant tools needed to be and feel healthy. After all, healthy people build strong and resilient organizations and communities.
What I’m Learning
From a Board Chair perspective, I’ve had my first people management experiences with multiple direct reports. Additionally, I’m learning to manage and motivate a board of busy professionals to accomplish both organizational and personal goals. In case that wasn’t enough, I’m getting some quick lessons in finance, fundraising, succession planning, organizational structure, commercial real estate, plumbing, city permitting, construction, building out a gym space, community development, non-profit law and community and racial politics. Phew!
But all of these pale in comparison to what I’ve learned teaching yoga at UP. Back in 2012, in my initial conversations with the founder, Laura, in how to serve UP, I mentioned that maybe, some day, I could teach yoga there. She emphatically agreed, saying, “Oh, Jess! You HAVE to!”
Fast forward four years. In May 2016, I completed my 200 Hour Yoga Teacher Training with Infinity Yoga. Infinity has a partnership with UP where they provide yoga teacher volunteers for classes twice per week. I’ve taught a handful of yoga classes at UP now, as a volunteer. Teaching in this space has helped me start to find my voice as a yoga teacher. It’s given me confidence on my path and helped me to introduce people to a practice that has positively affected me in many ways.
My most memorable interaction was with one of my students a few weeks ago. I had a small class that day, so I was able to focus on assists and adjustments. I helped one student make a few tweaks in her warrior and triangle poses. She apologized to me profusely. Surprised, I tried to let her know that she wasn’t doing anything wrong per se, I just wanted to be sure she felt good in the poses. After class, she came up and shared something with me:
“I recently spent 5 days in the hospital. I am coming to terms with the fact that I am living with a terminal illness. I am HIV Positive. I thank God every day for introducing me to Urban Perform. It’s the only place I’ve been where there is positive energy for me to learn how to take care of my body.”
Best and most of all, I’m learning how to structure and build an organization that enthusiastically supports others in their own wellness journey.
Why You Should Support
Every human being, regardless of size, shape, color, or income, should have a safe and encouraging place to take care of their body. If you have ever experienced exhilaration after a great workout, please consider donating, so that others can be introduced to those same feelings.
Finally: If you’ve made it this far, thank you for reading. I know I included a lot of information – probably too much. But, I hope you can tell how much I care for the work we are doing.