Nobody Can Do it Alone: From Homeless to PhD with Urban Fitness 911

Interview with Veronica Everett-Boyce, founder of Urban Fitness 911

Veronica Everett-Boyce founded Urban Fitness 911 three years ago in Los Angeles, CA. Urban Fitness 911 addresses the disparity of health and fitness for youth and adults by providing them with wellness, fitness, nutrition, mentoring, and tutoring. Urban Fitness 911 has three initiatives: High School Urban Fitness, Common Ground and the Toni Kohn House.

Michaela Haas: Why did you start Urban Fitness 911?
Veronica Everett-Boyce: I started Urban Fitness 911 because I believe no matter what your situation, every person deserves a chance to have success. I would know because I grew up on welfare, could not read until I was in the 10th grade, was not raised by mom, and my father killed himself. Now, I'm in a PhD program. If I can do it, so can they.

What's the link between physical and emotional fitness?
I don't think you can have one without the other. I think that when you take care of your body, you take care of your mind, and vice versa. What is the point of being successful if you do not have good health? I think they feed into each other. It is not thinking about it as separate entities, but as a whole. Everything is important: mind, body, and soul.

For my book Bouncing Forward: Transforming Bad Breaks into Breakthroughs, I interviewed Dr. Maya Angelou about overcoming childhood traumas and violence, and she said, "Nobody ever does it alone." Every child or teenager needs at least one person in their life who believes in them unconditionally. Do you share that experience?

Absolutely. I totally believe in the "it takes a village" concept, in that it takes consistency, structure, courage, support, and love to begin the process of mending a wounded heart.

I believe that we give up on kids too early and easily. Child development psychologist Ann Masten at the University of Minnesota told me, "It really bothers me that when people hear about the evidence on trauma, child abuse, and in utero exposure to alcohol, they assume, 'Oh, I must be totally damaged.' People pick up this idea, but there are many opportunities for reprogramming in the course of life." When I did the research for Bouncing Forward, I learned that many troubled kids opened up to opportunities later in life, such as continuing education. Is this what you are trying to offer with Urban Fitness 911?
I agree with that, but I also believe that kids can open up to opportunities before that as well if they are given the attention, love and support that they need. I am going after the kids who are headed toward falling through the cracks. I am going after kids that are homeless, abused, have poor academic performance, are lost in the system due to foster care and have not been shown the roadmap to success.

Who are the girls you invite to live at the Toni Kohn house? Tell us a little about them.

They are seven, amazing fighters who are smart, passionate, and interested in giving back to their communities. Also, these girls have had major challenges to overcome. They are scholars that have come from homelessness, abuse, foster care, instability, and adversity who are working every day to change their story.

How can people help? What do the girls need the most?

In addition to your time and donations, what the girls really need is exposure to people and opportunities that they may never otherwise have had the chance to experience.

Listen to the girls speak for themselves: