ATLANTA, GA (March 28, 2012) – The nearest full-service grocery store is several miles away. The only green space in the neighborhood is called Mother Mattie’s Garden, a narrow, quarter-acre lot in the middle of a blighted community.
A local church created the garden as a legacy to give kids a safe place to gather and play. Located five minutes from downtown Atlanta, the neighborhood referred to as “The Bluff” is a gritty area best known for being a drug haven and a place wracked with despair.
On one recent blustery night, however, members of the neighborhood and a few professional athletes packed into a converted warehouse that is home to New Life Covenant Church in order to celebrate a new ministry. The church launched Urban Perform, which is designed to be a place where people of all ages can exercise and develop healthy living habits.
Urban Perform has been a dream of New Life member Laura Pritchard for years. She secured equipment and support from a variety of sources, including the Atlanta Falcons Youth Foundation, Hillstone Construction, and the Miami Dolphins.
Three professional football players were on hand for the opening and answered questions from excited kids. Participating were Torell Troup of the Buffalo Bills, Quentin Moses of the Miami Dolphins, and Al Wilson of the Denver Broncos. They talked about the values of working hard and staying in school.
Urban Perform operates in a section of the warehouse that has been converted into a multi-use space that includes a kitchen, meeting area, and a gym four days a week.
By summer, Urban Perform is expected to provide open gym, spin classes, and group exercise for men and seniors as well as a camp for elementary through high school children who can focus on football, soccer, tennis, and basketball.
Lavetta “Billie” Walker, a member of New Life and a single mother of a 10-year-old, said she is elated that the gym is now located in her neighborhood. “The gym is another sign of hope that sends a positive message to the children of this community that shouts ‘you are loved, your future matters, and you are important,’ ” said Walker, a newly certified Zumba instructor for the gym.
“What this gym brings to our church family is another outlet for the families who are at risk in this neighborhood,” added Walker.
Pritchard says the gym is the latest expansion of New Life’s S.A.Y. (Save America’s Youth) Yes! ministry, which works with middle school students from 4 to 7 p.m. and helps them with homework and addressing a variety of issues.
“In a community ravaged by diabetes, heart disease, and various forms of addiction, we must offer more than a spiritual antidote to the problems that ail us,” said Emily Hayden, a S.A.Y Yes! board member and church leader. She describes it as a theologically informed approach.
“We are a community that celebrates the incarnation and proclaims the resurrection, and as such, we are shaped by the truth that bodies – real flesh and blood – matter to God,” Hayden explained. “The resurrection of the body is not simply a doctrine to which we ascribe. It’s not only a hope for the future. It’s a promise that we try to live into in the here and now. For us, Urban Perform is much more than a neighborhood gym – it’s an embodiment of God’s dream that ‘these bones shall live.’