Wellfit Girls: Leadership, Fitness and Empowerment for Girls

A Q&A with Brooke Spencer, Executive Director, Wellfit Girls Program SWFL, Inc., and Ashlyn Reeder, HBK Nonprofit Solutions

Founded in 2014 to inspire teen girls to climb high in all areas of life, Wellfit Girls Program SWFL, Inc. is a unique and meaningful leadership, fitness, and empowerment nonprofit organization specifically designed to empower teen girls to believe they can do anything; to believe in themselves. The curriculum challenges teen girls to step out of their comfort zone and become confident and empowered leaders, teaching them interpersonal communication, conflict resolution, vision and goals, body positivity, and bold leadership.

Some programs conclude with a life-changing expedition where the participants are challenged physically and mentally while hiking with heavy packs in a changing alpine environment. Wellfit Girls follows a curriculum that guides teens through a combination of physical, mental, and interpersonal challenges designed to prepare them for the final expedition and the rest of their life. The struggles they experience on the mountain correlate to life struggles they may currently have or may have in future years and learn they can accomplish anything they put their mind to. The goal is to inspire and empower each girl while nurturing and developing each girl’s individual leadership style. They are building strong women to be our future leaders.

Reeder. The organization is still relatively young, having been founded in 2014. What has been the biggest challenge to date?

Spencer. I would say our biggest challenge is showing the community what we do and clearly defining who we are and the impact we have. Most people are accustomed to seeing quantitative data on the impact of an organization, whereas we have qualitative data on how our programs impact the girls we serve in the long term. We’re an organization that offers programs for all girls who want to learn leadership skills, gain confidence, and learn more about themselves. We believe all girls are “at-risk” to meet their full potential, and girls from all backgrounds have proven to benefit from the programs we offer. Our core philosophy has always been to serve one girl for an extended period so that we can make a sustainable, lifelong impact in that girl’s life. Wellfit Girls takes that core philosophy and expands it so we can operate on a larger scale.

There are also so many different aspects to what we do that defining it in one sentence is difficult to do. We have a holistic approach to wellbeing and reflect that in our programs and really aim to fill in all the gaps in these girls’ education and life.

Reeder. It is a more difficult mission to communicate, but as you said, the impact of the organization is more qualitative than quantitative. What are some of the longlasting impacts of the organization on the girls who go through the programs?

Spencer. When I’m asked this, I think about individual stories. One girl, for example, just went through yoga teacher training with myself and other facilitators and had been getting straight A’s in college. Before joining Wellfit Girls a few years ago, she never thought she’d even go to college as she had little to no support, was in the foster care system, and was a very shy and insecure Wellfit Girls follows a curriculum that guides teens through a combination of physical, mental, and interpersonal challenges that prepare them for the hiking expedition and ultimately the rest of their lives. teenager. She took the tools she acquired from our program and is now financially independent, succeeding in college and teaching yoga classes as a 20-year-old.

Another example that comes to mind is quite the opposite; where this girl came who to us from a stable family, was more of a “cool” kid and wasn’t sure what her goals were in life. Now she’s graduated from cosmetology school, is considering going to a four-year college, is very sure about what does and doesn’t serve her, and goes after what she wants.

There are so many other examples of girls who benefit in completely different ways; some graduate high school when they are at risk not to, some go to more challenging colleges than they originally considered, some enter male-dominated career fields, some become personal trainers and health advocates building upon what they learned during our programs, and many become active in the community and the nonprofit industry as volunteers or employees. I can share that most teen girls we serve ultimately build trust, confidence, resilience, optimism, and self-reflection as a result of the program. They have more positive and deeper relationships with peers and adults and believe they can do more than they ever thought they could. We aren’t a one-size-fits-all organization. Every girl will take something different away, which is what makes Wellfit Girls so special.

Reeder. These are all great examples and such moving individual stories. Now that the programs have been running for seven years, do Alumni play a role in how the organization operates?

Spencer. Yes, we have Alumni who are now serving as facilitators to our programs and as peer mentors. We recently established an Alumni Advisory Council, which operates similar to other youth boards, where a group of Alumni has been established as a council and has regular meetings. A representative of the council sits in at every Board of Directors meeting and gives a participant perspective to the issues the board discusses. Already the Alumni Advisory Council has established a $1,000 scholarship fund, performed fundraising, is assisting with recruiting, and doing what they can to support the organization in the capacity they’re able to.

Reeder. You recently went through and restructured your program operations, making the programs more accessible to a larger group of girls. Can you explain that process? What did you find to be your biggest hurdle in achieving this change?

Spencer. One of my strengths is strategic planning, and I think it’s really important for an executive director to think about the long-term sustainability of an organization and make decisions that inform that sustainability.

We’ve always struggled to get people to see the sustainability of our pinnacle five-month program because we focus all of our energy on making a lifelong transformational impact on a small number of students. What we’ve realized is that we now have the capability for accessing more girls and have started working with them at a younger age, for shorter periods of time, which leads them into our larger five-month program option.

I spent a lot of time creating a plan for the organization through evaluating our challenges and strengths that would allow us to continue to offer the five-month program while also offering shorter, less expensive, focused programs for girls to choose from. This also serves to fill in the gap of those girls who may not be able to commit to our full five-month program.

I think it’s important for an organization to regularly evaluate how they’re operating and whether it’s still sustainable, and to also seek out and bring in those with fresh perspectives into the organization.

Reeder. HBK is excited to see the next chapter of your organization. Wellfit Girls has been working with us since its inception. How has your experience with our firm impacted the organization and its goals?

Spencer. Working with HBK, and you specifically, has been one of the more consistent things we’ve had as an organization. You’ve consistently been the professional support we need, from helping us through financial challenges to making sure that we’re staying compliant as a nonprofit organization. We know that if we need your help, you’ll be there for us and that what you take on is one less thing we have to worry about because we know you’ll get it done, and you’ll get it done right. It’s such a huge value for us to have that kind of support and guidance; we couldn’t do what we do without it.

About the Author(s)

Ashlynn is a Senior Manager in the HBK office in Naples, Fla. She serves as Assistant Director in the HBK Nonprofit Solutions Group, as a Tax Specialist in the firm’s Tax-Exempt Organizations Tax Specialists Group, and is a resource for the firm at large as it relates to nonprofit engagements. During her career she has worked closely with small to mid-sized local businesses and their owners, high-net-worth individuals, trusts, and estates. Through her work with nonprofit organizations, she found a way to combine her passion and her profession. She has specialized her knowledge in nonprofit tax reporting, operations, and consulting, and through her role as Assistant Director of the Nonprofit Solutions Group she has helped initiate firm-wide policy, training, and guidance related to serving nonprofit organizations. For more information, contact Ashlynn at 239-263-2111 or areeder@hbkcpa.com.

Hill, Barth & King LLC has prepared this material for informational purposes only. Any tax advice contained in this communication (including any attachments) is not intended or written to be used, and cannot be used, for the purpose of (i) avoiding penalties under the Internal Revenue Code or under any state or local tax law or (ii) promoting, marketing or recommending to another party any transaction or matter addressed herein. Please do not hesitate to contact us if you have any questions regarding the matter.

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