Inside The Book Fairs That Allow Kids To Pay With Exercise

Get Focused is on a mission to ensure no child goes home empty-handed.
10/03/2017 04:23pm ET

Goldin Martinez will likely never forget the day his elementary school held a book fair. It was the same day he and a handful of his classmates were instructed to stand against the wall and wait for the others because they couldn’t afford a book.

Now, Martinez is ensuring other kids won’t face the same struggle.

Martinez, a personal trainer, started Get Focused, an organization dedicated to teaching kids the importance of being active and staying healthy, in 2009. In 2015, he revamped its mission by adding a literary component. Martinez now works with schools to hold book fairs in which kids pay for their books in exercises.

“Your health is your wealth,” Martinez said of the project.

Get Focused/Goldin Martinez
Goldin Martinez started Get Focused, an organization dedicated to teaching kids to stay active and healthy, in 2009. In 2015, he added a literary component with a different type of book fair.

Books can be worth a certain amount of jumping jacks or squats or any other exercise. The idea behind the inclusive book fair is to keep kids active, promote literacy and give them control of their wealth. Once they find a book they like, the students can see how much it costs (in exercises) and can carry out that “transaction” with a trainer.

“When a participant picks up a book and goes to a trainer, it basically becomes a one-on-one session,” Martinez said.

Kids with injuries and disabilities can also participate because all the trainers at Get Focused have been taught to create modifications if needed.

“For example, if a child with disabilities cannot perform push-ups on the floor we might encourage them to do the push-ups on the wall,” Martinez said.

Get Focused has held book fairs at elementary, middle and high schools in New York and New Jersey. The organization has also held one in Boston. Get Focused runs on donations of books, and currently, Martinez has about 12,000 sitting in a storage unit in New Jersey.

Get Focused/Goldin Martinez
The book fairs Get Focused puts on allow kids to pay for books through exercises.

It wasn’t until he was a junior in high school that Martinez discovered his passion for reading. After refusing to pick up a book during independent reading time in his English class, his teacher finally convinced him by offering him a book she had recently bought for herself: Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom. Martinez finally gave in and fell in love with the book. He was so entranced, his teacher let him have it.

“I wish I could find her and tell her, ‘You changed my life,’” Martinez, who has tried looking up his teacher online with no luck, said. “I don’t think she even knows.”

Although Martinez loved reading, he faced many points in his life in which he couldn’t afford books, even cheap ones at thrift stores marked $1 or $3 or $5. Looking back at his obstacles, Martinez wanted to create a way for kids to always be included in book fairs.

Despite having to crash on friends’ couches to keep his dream going, Martinez eventually convinced others of his exercise-driven book fair. In about two-and-a-half years, he’s held 40 events encouraging kids to take home books by paying through exercise.

Get Focused/Goldin Martinez
Martinez said Get Focused has held 40 events in the last two-and-a-half years to teach the kids the importance of literacy and health.

Martinez has also raised more than $8,600 through GoFundMe as of Tuesday afternoon. Since he has plenty of donated books for his fairs, he’s hoping to be able to pay all the personal trainers that contribute their skills and offer T-shirts in addition to the drawstring bag that the kids already receive with their book.

When Martinez mentions that day he wasn’t able to participate in his school’s book fair, he doesn’t speak with anger or even frustration. He explained that “entrepreneurs and ideas are born from being left out.” With his idea behind Get Focused, fewer kids will have to worry about that.

Learn more about Get Focused on its site.