When it comes to fit kids, they have it covered with body and mind

Fitness has always been important to Fit Kids founder Rhonda Smith. She remembers traveling around the country starting health clubs in the ‘80s and women being worried about getting thunder thighs and muscular arms.

Today, it’s the children she serves.

“Our heart is in health and wellness,” said Smith, who runs Fit Kids with Connie Sootin, whose background is in nursing and healthcare.

Their nonprofit agency provides after-school care and summer camp for more than 250 children in Miami-Dade’s Westchester area. The Children’s Trust, which helps to fund the after-school care and the camp, named it Program of the Year for 2018.

The after-school program, which costs $35 a week, begins at 2 p.m. and is open until 7. A bus ferries children from nearby Olympia Heights Elementary. Serving children up to age 14, the agency also has students from Glades Middle, Everglades K-8 and Cypress K-8.

“Whoever can get to us, we want them,” Smith said. While children do get time to play outside, “we have indoor fitness and aerobics, hip-hop, line dancing, resistance training. …. It is age appropriate” Smith said.

The afternoon begins with children eating a healthy snack and then tackling homework. Smith hires certified teachers and college students to help and has labs for the public-school-mandated iReady computer programs in reading and math.

“A lot of our parents don’t have computers at home and they don’t have internet access,” Smith said.

She relies on “the generosity of the Trust and other donations” to purchase and service computers. “Even as we speak, I have one IT guy there . . . to make sure the computers are up and working,” Smith said.


Fit Kids of America teacher Claire Worthy works with student Mayleen Castillo, 7, on word and math skills during an after-school program on Friday, Oct. 12, 2018.

Emily Michot emichot@miamiherald.com

Summer Paramo said her daughter Cheryl, 8, has to do 80 minutes a week of iReady on the computer for reading and son Lenin, 9, is required to do an hour of reading and an hour of math on iReady as well as 15 minutes of Reflex Math. Having much of that completed while they’re at Fit Kids “is a great help,” Paramo said.

“Imagine picking them up and still having to do that” in addition to homework and dinner, she added.

Maura Quintana, a shipping clerk at South Miami Pharmacy, appreciates Fit Kids’ help with computers and iReady for her children, Amanda Vansco, 8, and Alecsander Vansco, 10.

“They have snacks, and also at 5:30 they have a free dinner, with very healthy foods,” Quintana said. “I just make enough to pay bills,” Quintana said, “and I don’t get any child support.”

She’s thankful that The Children’s Trust pays Alecsander’s tuition.

The program has a lot of kids “whose parents speak another language,” said Deborah Robinson, who works with the Fit Kids program in her supervisory role at The Children’s Trust.

“Teaching them to read” is absolutely crucial as “reading is a part of every aspect of life.”

In addition to iReady assistance, Fit Kids offers a program called Study Island for children who need extra reading help, Smith said.

In choosing an after-school and camp program, “we’re looking to improve literary skills, physical fitness and social skills,” Robinson said, “and Fit Kids is all about healthy eating, social interactions” and helping the whole family live a healthier lifestyle.


Students and teachers in the Fit Kids of America after-school program enjoy a game that helps them learn about nutrition Friday afternoon, Oct. 12, 2018.

Emily Michot emichot@miamiherald.com

Quintana said the Trust helped her “100 percent with Alecsander” with paying for summer camp. Camp fees are $88 a week with a sliding scale for those with lower incomes. Some full scholarships are available.

Last summer, Paramo’s son, Lenin, was old enough for a technology-driven program in which campers programmed computers, used drones and made video commercials. Paramo said the younger ones exercised and played sports outside in the morning when it was cooler and the older ones went outdoors in the afternoon.

For camp, Fit Kids staff is augmented with high school students from Miami-Dade County’s Summer Youth Internship Program.

“We have been able to identify those [interns] that are exceptional these past several years,” Smith said, adding, “Now some are seniors, several are in college. It’s a wonderful way to identify new employees.

“Some of these [interns] have been children in daycare here. Now they have their first job. To me it’s like going full circle,” Smith said, adding, “As you can hear, it’s a labor of love.”