by Michele D. Maniscalco, Contributor
Thursday Jul 16, 2015
The South End News had a front-row seat for the On the MOVE class at 2:00 PM last Saturday in Blackstone Square. About six children participated in games designed to promote strength, agility, balance, aim, good form and other essential skills. Parents relaxed in lounge chairs in the shade and passersby stopped to watch while about five adult staff guided the children through games and activities such as backward hopscotch, water-balloon relays, dodge ball and hurdle-jumping focused on building strength, agility, coordination, proper form and self-confidence.
Since the class took place at peak sun-time, there was plenty of bottled water on hand and the staff asked the children between each activity whether they needed a water break. The class, called On The MOVE, was conducted by a new, South End-based youth fitness company called Reimagine Play, whose founder, Betty Francisco, photographed the action while her staff of certified coaches guided the exercise while her husband, former New England Patriots tight end Paul Francisco, supplemented the coaching staff as ringleader of the games. While the company is only two months old, it has been in planning for some time.
"We officially launched in May 2015, but the idea has been in the making for more than three years. I decided to launch it after transitioning from my role as EVP, General Counsel for Sports Club/LA which was acquired last year by another company," Francisco explained in an e-mail. Reflecting on the need for increased children's fitness opportunities, Betty Francisco said, "In school, there isn't much PE (physical education) anymore so it's about getting them out, getting them active. You've got to start your kids early, and a lot of parents don't do that. I think it's very hard nowadays."
On The MOVE, the company's mainstay class, offers all-around fitness to groups of up to 15 children with two or more coaches. Other programs include Core Power, which helps develop core strength and stability through body-weight and other exercises; and small group classes with more personalized activities focused on a specific fitness goal.
While Reimagine Play's current classes are mainly for elementary school students, Francisco intends to add programs for teens as well. Laying out her plans in a telephone interview, Francisco said, "My goal is to also create programs for teens. With teenagers you can't just put something out there, so what I am going to do is work with one of the youth groups like Youth Design. I am going to do a contest to reimagine a fitness experience. If you were given three things, a stick or other implement and asked to create a fitness experience, what would it be?"
Francisco stressed the importance of safe movement as well as performance. "Part of it is to teach them fundamental fitness skills so that they have them through life. They can use them to play a sport or any activity because it teaches running, jumping, lateral moves, injury prevention. A lot of kids get thrown into a sport now and they're not conditioned; they aren't ready to be playing. They get thrown in, there's a little bit of practice and then they are playing. [Our program] can help with conditioning them so they are ready to play and so that they can jump properly or do a lateral move because you can really hurt your knees, for example, if you aren't doing it correctly."
All of her staff are certified for training adults as well as children. Lead coach Ann Bruck is also certified as a cancer exercise specialist, helping breast-cancer patients with pain relief, strength recovery and range of movement. Paul Francisco, who heads the diversity consulting and sourcing office at the State Street Corporation, joins the classes as his schedule permits, joyfully acting as a human target for both rubber-ball and water-balloon dodgeball games.
"He is not officially a business partner, but supports this endeavor as my husband and as someone who is passionate about kids' health and wellness," Betty Francisco wrote in an e-mail.
Since starting classes in May 2015, Reimagine Fitness has gained a steady following with some local families from the neighborhood and from the Josiah Quincy School (JQS), where Francisco's daughters aged six and nine are enrolled. She aims to build clientele through social media and outreach to schools, community centers and community health centers.
"We have about 10 families that have been consistently coming; maybe a little more. We are trying to do it in a way that is very customer-centric, asking the parents and the kids 'What do you like? What do you enjoy?' and we keep tweaking it. We know we have to keep it fresh." Francisco, who holds an MBA as well as a law degree, knows that her programs must be practical for the parents as well as for the students.
"We want this to work for parents too because we know that they stay," she observed. She plans to develop her audience through partnerships with local institutions as well as with demonstration classes at community events. "There are two parents at JQS who organize the after school and we are talking with them about offering Reimagine Play in the fall. It opens the door to do this at other schools, too." Francisco has made connections with Blackstone Community Center and with United South End Settlements to use their spaces for classes on rainy days; The Base, a youth program founded by Robert Lewis, Jr. to promote athletics and academic success; and the Dimock Center, a program of Boston Center for Youth and Families (BCYF). After Saturday's class in Blackstone Square, Reimagine Play gave a demo class for spectators at The Base's baseball game, and will do the same in conjunction with the Dimock Center's 5K race for kids on September 12.
For more information on Reimagine Play, please visit www.reimagineplay.com