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A good fit for the community

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Helen Dudley (centre) with Sonia Jabon (left) and Lisa Yashar. (Photo by Akil Simmons)

Helen Dudley’s idea was to have a gym where moms could bring their kids while they got fit.

It grew into so much more than that.

She’s helped raise $32,000 for charity since her classes began in 2011 and hopes to contribute $45,000 to an arts programme for local students within the next year.

“A group of moms needed a place to work out and we wanted something that was affordable and suited to mothers and included the kids,” Mrs Dudley explained.

“We rented a space and it got really popular and we then thought it’d be great if we could contribute to charity.”

Mrs Dudley got a team of stay-at-home moms to assist. American Lisa Yashar does all the event planning and Canadian Sonia Jabon directs the group’s health and wellness challenges.

Today the group has a mailing list of about 180 and offers $100 punch cards, which are good for ten classes, or individual classes for $15.

Between ten and 15 people attend each class. The classes are all taught by volunteer teachers. All profit goes to charity as do the proceeds of various fundraisers held throughout the year. Classes are held at 135 King Street five days a week — the gym benefits from a generous rental agreement with Bob Smith of the Academy of Martial Arts. Yoga classes are held twice a week at Masterworks Museum of Bermuda Art. Babies and small children are welcome.

“We initially teamed up with [King Edward VII Memorial Hospital emergency doctor] Tiffany Keenan and her charity, Haiti Village Health,” said Mrs Dudley, who is originally from Canada. “That was a very rewarding experience. We knew where every dollar was going. And we raised $20,000.

“The problem was that it wasn’t helping this community. We looked locally and thought, ‘What do we like to do?’ We all come from backgrounds in the arts and arts programmes are the first things to be cut when the economy is struggling and so we thought we could do something on a small scale.”

Masterworks fit the bill for the women and Masterworks Art Outreach for Kids was born.

“In September we set up the Masterworks Education Fund,” Mrs Dudley said. “We’re looking to hire an arts teacher to go into public schools. Right now [Masterworks has] one per week.” Their hope is to raise $45,000 by next September. The funds will be used to either get the arts teacher to spend more time in the schools they now visit or, expand their outreach into more schools.

“We chose Masterworks because they have a diverse group and we wanted to be able to make a greater impact in the community,” Mrs Dudley said. “We’ve raised $12,000 since September.”

Aside from the benefits to the community, the women hope their efforts will set a good example for their children.

Said Mrs Yashar: “The idea we hopefully get across to our kids is, even though mummy doesn’t go to an office everyday, they know we’re out there doing something to try to help people.

“I did go through a bit of a mental crisis when I stopped working, worrying that I wasn’t setting the right example for my daughter. Like most, I want to raise her to be an independent woman — I wasn’t sure quitting my job was in line with that but I do feel good about her seeing me volunteer my time and work hard for something I believe in.”

Asked if they were worried about what might happen to the charity if they left, Mrs Jabon said: “I think it would run itself. We lose people all the time but there’s enough of us who have an interest in fitness and the community to carry it on.

“Hopefully there will always be women like us who are looking to give back to the community. It’s an amazing thing Helen has created here and a chance for everybody to get together.”

Added Mrs Dudley: “I think it’s great that we have such a diverse group of people. We have wives of CEOs who could go to the swankiest gyms on the Island if they wanted, but they choose to come to us. I think that’s because of the spirit of community.”

For more information telephone 504-1117, e-mail aokfitnessfundraising@gmail.com or visit www.facebook.com/aokfitnessfundraising

Helen Dudley (centre) with Sonia Jabon (left) and Lisa Yashar. (Photo by Akil Simmons)