When they say reading and exercise can change your life, they truly mean it - a book and some push-ups changed the outcome of my life. Thirteen years ago, I was a 16-year-old student in my 3rd year of high school in Washington Heights, NY. I was formally considered a freshman because I hadn't accumulated enough credits to matriculate out of the 9th grade. As the rest of my classmates got ready to become 12th graders, I was looking at being in 9th grade yet again. I didn't realize the damage I was doing to my future by neglecting my studies and making poor personal decisions.
A turning point in my life came when a teacher named Ms. Wallace put a book in my hand and pushed me to take greater responsibility in my life.
One day during English class, Ms. Wallace observed me sitting at my desk without a book and demanded I take out something to read. "Mr. Martinez, please take out your book and participate in reading time like everyone else." I told her I had no books, that I hated reading, and asked her to go back to her desk and leave me alone. She brushed off my attitude, asking me to pick out a book from the class library and start reading it or she would send me to the principal’s office. When I objected again, she was persistent. She walked back to her desk, took a book from her own purse, and said "I really think you would like this book. Just give it a chance." I was just about to get angry at her for not leaving me alone, but was intrigued by such a personal offer. I accepted the book.
After reading a few pages, I could not put the book down. It was so captivating that after class I walked up to her desk and begged her to let me finish it. With a big simile she said, "You can keep it! I'll just get another copy."
The book was called "Tuesdays with Morrie” by Mitch Albom. Reading it saved my life. It opened up a whole new world of inspiration and wisdom by changing my personal perception of me and helping me to realize that life is what you make it.
After that, I began reading every single self-improvement book I could find; I went on to achieve my GED and then enrolled in college for Business Management. I also joined the local gym, and in addition to strengthening my mind, I began strengthening my body. By 2009, I had my own personal training practice with dozens of clients and eventually founded my own community organization called Get Focused to provide free personal training to children from my old neighborhood.
But, I still felt I was missing a link in my organization.
In January of 2015, I decided to combine two of my biggest passions in life - reading and exercise - because I know firsthand how powerful they are together. I literally sat at my desk the first week of 2015 staring at a whiteboard with a formula that read "exercise + reading = ?" My goal was to figure out how to combine the two into a single program. After all that brainstorming, the idea finally hit me.
"What if Get Focused started doing health-based book fairs where students can pay for their favorite books using exercise?"
All I wanted was to dedicate myself full-time to this new idea because in my heart I knew that exercise and reading were the ones responsible for changing my life and that through this new program my organization would surely change many more lives.
The very next day I created a flyer for social media that read, "Have new or used books? Donate them to Get Focused." and within two weeks we had thousands of books donated to us. I stored them all at my apartment and began the quest of creating this movement.
The first step was to find a school that would be willing to host an event, which had never been done before. Thankfully, I found a school named Inwood Academy for Leadership who loved my concept and wanted to host us. We set a date in March 2015 in honor of National Reading Month. To pay for this event, I decided that creating a GoFundMe would be helpful! I created our campaign and was able to raise over $3,000 to help pay for t-shirts, drawstring backpacks, bins, transportation, printing material, healthy snacks, and trainers. The first Get Focused Book Fair was a huge success and we had over 250 students and their parents attend. Over 1,500 books were awarded using our exercise system and every student received a GF drawstring backpack and t-shirt in addition to the books.
I am proud to say that since March 2015, we have successfully completed over 40 of these amazing events in New York, New Jersey, and Boston and have awarded over 22,000 books using our Get Focused program. We have done it with the help of terrific companies like Advocate Community Providers, Health First, and the Boys & Girls Clubs of America but the program is growing so fast that we can no longer do it alone.
We need your help to keep going!
Our five-year plan is to become a staple within the community and have our Get Focused model implemented at health fairs and schools across the country. It’s a well-established fact that many families in the United States have no children’s books at home and that many American families can’t afford to buy books at all. With our Get Focused program, we eliminate this dilemma and at the same time ensure that every student gets the seeds of literacy and fitness planted into their lives.
Your contribution will help us pay for transportation, storage, supplies, trainers, and more. Your support is critical as we continue to make an impact and take this special initiative to even more places.
Please watch the video above and witness for yourself how powerful Get Focused is and why we need your support to help the initiative grow. Below you'll see my original GoFundMe story - just asking for some support to run that first event. Look how far we have come!
- February 2015 - original story -
This is an ongoing fundraising campaign to get young people across America to read and exercise. Funds are used to offer free Get Focused books fairs to schools.
Over the last two years we have successfully partnered with over 24 public schools and recreation centers to award thousands of books to children.
Urban communities often suffer from a lack of exercise and access to books. Wouldn’t it be powerful for a bookstore to exist where instead of purchasing books using money, exercise would be the currency used to purchase books?
Please watch our video and witness for yourself how powerful this is and why we need your support to help the initiative grow and reach more people in need!