Laura Pritchard talks about New Life Gym

“You’re starting what kind of gym? Where?,” the man asks with a shocked tone.  I answer matter-of-factly with, “Nonprofit and in my low income urban neighborhood.”  This starts a whole whirlwind discussion focused on why I live in the inner city and why on earth would I start a gym there that is not for profit.  Well, I promise you I have answers for both.

In September 2007, I moved from the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, VA to “The Bluff” in Atlanta, GA to participate in a yearlong service program calledMission Year. I spent the year volunteering at New Life Covenant Church (a local church established in 1993) and Booker T. Washington High School (our neighborhood high school, where Martin Luther King, Jr. attended).  During this time, my Mission Year team and I quickly learned of many injustices happening in The Bluff.  Drugs were dealt on the corner of our apartment building, prostitutes walked the streets, a fight could break out at anytime and all this was happening while children were in plain sight playing in the street.  Our heart broke for the lives of our neighbors.

Being an Exercise Physiology major, I quickly noticed the injustices dealing with health.  The Bluff is in a food desert; getting to the grocery store can take over an hour on MARTA.  Running in the neighborhood is not an option and there are no public places for organized exercise.  After my year of service, I returned to UVA to finish my undergraduate and graduate degrees in Exercise Physiology.  Living back in the discomfort of privilege and realizing all my needs were met, but my neighbors in Atlanta were not in the same situation, I started to dream of what it would look like to meet the needs of my neighbors, specifically health needs.

I dreamed of having a fitness facility open to everyone on a sliding income scale basis.  The elementary kids would learn mobility and movement skills.  The middle and high school kids could do sports performance training.  The adults could have open gym and group fitness classes.  Everyone could take cooking classes.  And the school-aged individuals would also engage in tutoring and life skills lessons.  This would be a place that could provide jobs for individuals and as well as love and encouragement for all!

A few months after graduating in 2010, I was offered a job in Atlanta. I quickly accepted and moved back.  I currently, live right across the street from Booker T. Washington High School and still attend New Life Covenant.

This past May, after residents of The Bluff had expressed a need for a safe place to exercise, my pastor approached me to help lead the project of opening a fitness facility in The Bluff (My dream was coming true!!).  We are now partnered with theatoledo.comnewlifecovenantchurch.org/New_Life_Covenant_Church/SAY_Yes!.html” target=”_blank”>New Life SAY Yes! Center (a free after school program) and plan to open our doors in January 2012.  It is our hope that this facility meets the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual needs of the neighborhood.

It is a joy to have the opportunity to use my love for exercise as a way to make my community a better place.  I cannot express to you how excited I am to be a part of having my life transformed alongside the lives of my neighbors.  Please follow your dreams and allow the Lord to use you in improving your community!

Laura Pritchard spends her time building relationships with neighbors and recruiting for Mission Year. You can find her on Facebook and Twitter, or developing the neighborhood gym.

This post originally appeared on KylaJoyful.com.