The Interns’ Perspective
The Story of Youth Combine
Youth Combine is a non-profit organization that provides fitness programming and wellness education for kids in the Gainesville, FL area. With the mission of combatting childhood obesity, Youth Combine delivers unlimited access to all fitness classes, at all of their locations, for just $20 per child per month. Youth Combined opened in 2012 with just forty students and they now have over one hundred active members in their program.
Childhood Obesity has more than tripled in the last three years, and now, one in three kids are obese. Youth Combine’s owner, Matthew Howland, said enough is enough. He quit his job as a school teacher, sold his car and took up the fight against obesity and inactivity in youth. Youth Combine has been a customer of ours for a couple years, and we’ve gotten to know them well. Today’s blog is the story of their day-to-day operations, as told by their group of talented interns.
The Interns’ Perspective
As seniors at the University of Florida studying Applied Physiology and Kinesiology (APK), we are expected to attend a fulltime internship for the last semester of our undergraduate tenure. This is intended to help further our education and give us a leg up on our peers throughout the country.
While most of our friends in the same major are either in a physical therapy clinic or a local gym, we were lucky enough to get a position at Youth Combine.
Vlad: My name is Vlad Korenblit and I plan on attending medical school in order to become a sports medicine physician someday. As someone who grew up playing team sports, I have enjoyed working as a team within an organization in order to reach a common goal. When I applied for this internship during the Fall semester, I did not know how many positions would be available. I was hoping to have several cointerns so that we could work together during projects and discuss our opinions when making big decisions.
Youth Combine’s sole intern last semester suggested to our supervisor that he bring in several interns in order to have more brain power and cover more ground while accomplishing tasks. Our supervisor, Matthew Howland, took his advice. Two months after expanding our team of interns to three, Matthew commented that our organization has never experienced as much success as we have in the last couple of months.
Zach: My name is Zack Greenstein and like Vlad, I am also interested in pursuing an M.D. degree after I complete this internship. I think the word “variety” fits this internship description well. While Vlad and I are not interning in a medical facility where we could be furthering our health education, what we are experiencing is much more.
The expectations and responsibilities placed on us are helping us grow as professionals, more so than what I think we may find at other internship locations. We are provided an opportunity to make highlevel decisions, compared to the paperpushing that is occurring with our peers. I would much rather be on the field talking to little Jimmy about his nutrition choices than showing a patient where their room is.
My favorite part of the internship is seeing the daily grind behind the scenes of running a nonprofit organization, as nonprofit work is something that I plan on incorporating into my career. We are tasked with daily duties such as social media management, member communication, and fitness programming, while also taking on large scope projects.
Vlad, Josh, and I have played big roles in launching Youth Combine’s new Birthday and MVP Programs, and it’s an awesome feeling to oversee a project and have all the responsibility from start to finish. Because Youth Combine is still so young and small, it is both exhilarating and nerveracking that every decision we make and every action we take can have a huge impact on the organization.
Being such a small organization, we operate on very meager means. We have experienced firsthand how piecing together small grants really push Youth Combine forward. We have also experienced how losing a grant can result in a cascade of setbacks. When put in perspective, it is quite taxing to know that anything we do on a given day could bring the entire organization crumbling down.
Josh: My name is Josh Pauls and I have a flight contract with the U.S. Navy. After Youth Combine, I am reporting to Naval Air Station Pensacola as a Student Naval Aviator (SNA). It wasn’t until the other day that I truly realized how valuable and engaging my experience has been so far.
I was eating breakfast at a doughnut shop with one of my best friends, who is in the Master’s of Occupational Therapy program at UF. She was discussing how, when applying for internships at various medical institutions around the country, the interviews were asking for three key experiences. As she listed them off, I thought to myself, “Wow, I have done all of these at Youth Combine.” The ability to search for and apply for grants? Check. Managing a team of employees? Check. Designing health interventions for the betterment of a specific population? Check. It was amazing to see how the work that I am doing now is comparable to a Master’s degree program.
Our first half of the internship was riddled with office work, such as applying for grants, looking for sponsors for our kids’ triathlon, setting up extra events for our athletes, and many small battles, all of which we seemed to be losing. We would apply for grants, only to receive a rejection soon after. It is difficult to stomach a rejection when you have so much passion for what you do, but others do not quite seem to understand your direction or point of view.
We were not witnessing any growth or excitement through our work. If anything, all we were experiencing was disappointment as we faced multiple funding rejections. You know it’s a bad day when you call back a potential funding source to thank them for the handsigned rejection letter, rather than the generic automated rejection email. The handsigned letter was refreshing- we thought it showed that they cared about our proposal and us.
Now approaching the middle of March, we are starting the see the fruits of our labor. All the work we did early in the semester is starting to pay off. After just six weeks! The three of us submitted more grant proposals in one semester than have ever been submitted in the history of Youth Combine. When you work for such a strong purpose, you are motivated to work hard all the time, but this can be exhausting. We are just glad it is paying off. Businesses are starting to call us offering sponsorships!
We secured a grant for a van and filled all of the sponsorships for our Kids’ Triathlon. We are winning grants that we applied for at the beginning of the semester. Outside of the office, we are witnessing how our efforts are creating a Youth Combine that is a cut above what was offered last year.
We held a fun day one Saturday, where our kids and their parents could come out and socialize and play games outside in a fun environment with our coaches. We had over 50 people come spend time with us! The blog posts we have written this semester account for onefifth of total blog posts in the last three years and buzz is growing around the city.
Topping this, we were invited to take ten of our kids to a local CrossFit competition. It was thrilling to see our little athletes kicking it into overdrive in front of 100 adults. The adults were so impressed with our kids that it ignited a fundraising surge that has resulted in over $1,500 in donations over just a couple weeks!
All About the Kids
Youth Combine was developed for the kids, so you probably care to hear more about them, and less about us. The most fun and exciting, but also stressful part of each day is the 4:00 5:30pm Fitness Program. Every student has their favorite coaches, and to see the excitement on a child’s face as they walk onto the field and see you there is priceless. One of Zack’s favorite moments was when a girl asked him to sign a piece of paper and he noticed that the top of the paper read “Best Friend List.”
Vlad’s goal is to change the lives of all of the kids that he coaches and encourage them to make healthier lifestyle choices. We all try to remember the goals that each child set and encourage him or her to make progress and eventually meet those goals.
A few weeks ago, Vlad had his first experience counseling a child that was having self-esteem issues during a game that we played at the end of that day. The child felt that his performance during the game was inadequate, so Vlad told him about a time when he was in the child’s shoes. Vlad explained that his first season of roller hockey was a miserable experience. “Every time I touched the puck I was doing more harm than good,” he told the student, “but, I trained through the offseason with my dad and returned the next season with a ton of confidence.”
Vlad told the student that if he wanted to improve his performance in a sport, he had to train during his free time, when no one was watching. Vlad encouraged him to simply go out there and have fun with the rest of the kids. The child returned to the game and played carefree with a giant smile on his face, and Vlad was happy to have made a difference that day.
These are the kinds of experiences we have interning at Youth Combine. Although we are operating out of a nook in a back hallway of a boisterous middle school, we’ve done things that we had no idea how to do just a few months ago. And we have no idea what new things will arise over the next few months.
Through each of these experiences, we are learning something that we can directly apply to our professional careers. As our great supervisor and Executive Director of Youth Combine, Matthew Howland, likes to say: “Each day is the scariest and most exciting day of your life while running Youth Combine.” We are seeing some direct benefits of our labor now, but soon when our organization explodes across the nation, we can look back on our experience here and say, “We helped build that.”
Vlad, Josh & Zach
The Interns at Youth Combine
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