Chipola Fitness is more than exercise and a promoting a healthy lifestyle. It is family, it is an extension of Jackson Hospital’s policy on community involvement, and it is about giving back especially to those less fortunate.
Monday morning, team leaders and instructors from Chipola Fitness made their way to instructor Allison Stoutamire’s home with Santa’s sleigh waiting in the drive to be loaded with toys and gifts for good little girls and boys. Aerobics instructor Kelly Swearingen, Jackson Hospital Assistant Administrator, Human Resources Brooke Donaldson, instructor Amanda Shores, Chipola Fitness manager Gary Stevens, Sara Keatron, Kelsey Davis, Pam Fuqua, Keely Gilbert, and Danielle Payne all worked hard to complete this venture and insure its success.
It all started with a casual conversation about giving about to the community. One of their instructors is a foster parent and they decided to do a foster family in Jackson County. Kelly Swearingen said, “Instead of an angel tree, we had a blessing tree in our group fitness which is the aerobics part.” Allison Stoutamire said, “People from the gym found out about it, came in and started getting blessings off the tree.” Swearingen explained the blessings were lists of what the children wanted for their Christmas, their Christmas list. The staff said they were overwhelmed with emotion at the response from those taking names from the tree and the ‘blessings’ that were returned for the recipients. Stoutamire said, “The gifts started piling up and some had given gift cards and the packages just kept coming so I volunteered to bring them to my house. I started wrapping, wrapping, and wrapping until we have what you see here. We made sure all the things were checked off and everyone had what they wanted.”
Stoutamire said, “We wanted it to be a “Blessing Tree’ because this is a blessing to be able to bring so much joy to these children and they are blessed to have wonderful foster parents. We also feel it is a blessing that we are in a position to do for others. Since my mother passed away, this is what brings me happiness. Picking out gifts and wrapping them knowing that smiles are going to follow is my therapy and I know my mom is smiling down on me.”
Swearingen said it was important that everyone knows these gifts stay in Jackson County. It is through the Gulf Coast Advocacy Center. That’s how they received their children’s names. The sleigh was loaded and set for delivery to a family who has six foster children in their home in Alford. The caregivers were also taken care of by Santa’s helpers with fishing rods and surprises. Bicycles were assembled and bows attached for every child. Smiles were on the faces of all those loading the ‘sleigh’