West Hartford fifth-grader George Udall organized the six-week program, which raised $2,500 for Dog Star Rescue.
By Ronnie Newton
George Udall may only be 11 years old and in the fifth grade at Duffy Elementary School in West Hartford, but he’s already learned the importance of fitness and philanthropy.
Sunday, April 2, was the last day of the six-week winter session of Fitness Class Training, a running club for children ages 3-12. By the time the program ended, George had raised $2,500, which he donated to Dog Star Rescue’s “Dog Star 4 Vets,” a special dog adoption program for honorably discharged veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces.
Back in 2020, George, then 8 years old, started a gym class in his West Hartford backyard as a way to stay in shape during COVID. With the support of both of his parents—Betsy and Matthew Udall are avid CrossFit and other sports enthusiasts, and both are also active in area nonprofits—George also chose to charge a nominal fee for the fitness classes and donate the proceeds to charity. .
It started with just friends and family members, but the program has continued to grow. Children from several towns participated in the exercise program of the just-concluded gym class, which was held Sunday afternoon at the Conard High School track. They would run laps with the goal of getting a little farther each week, Betsy Udall said.
“This season there was a bonus of fitness stations for the kids, which seemed to be the part they enjoyed the most,” she said. “There were dumbbells, sled pulls, sandbag carries, jump ropes, ladders and several other fun fitness challenges. The kids won charms to hang on their backpacks for completing the fitness stations and running miles.”
In less than three years of operation, Fitness Class Training became a 501(c)(3) and in 2022 donated more than $20,800 to local charities, Betsy Udall said — organizations focused on animals and/or veterans, which also include Open Doors Outdoors and Run for the Wild at the Bronx Zoo.
Total donations to Dog Star Rescue exceed $14,000, including the $2,500 donation to Dog Star 4 Vets from last session.
“We match qualified veterans, men and women, with deserving homeless abandoned dogs,” program manager Bonnie Gaynor told DS4V.
“Our goal is to place dogs who have entered shelters as a result of being abandoned or surrendered by their owner into permanent homes with military veterans where they are cared for with respect and friendship. We offer discounted adoption fees for honorably discharged veterans, discounted veterinary care through Veterinary Care Everywhere and financial assistance for approved training programs,” Gaynor said.
Gaynor said Dog Star is proud of the program and noted that “companion dogs for military veterans can improve mental well-being, motivate veterans to get up and go out into the world, and improve disabled veterans’ transition to civilian life.”
More information about Fitness Class Training and future programs or volunteer opportunities can be found at Fitnessct.org, @fitnessclasstraining on Instagram and Fitness Class Training on Facebook.
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