Funding the Future of Health and Wellness in Our Community

Posted on Aug 19, 2022

Erica Miller, Jim Vanderbleek, and Dr. Patrick Mularoni.
Erin Savage, Jim Vanderbleek, and Dr. Patrick Mularoni.

Students in the Athletic Lifestyle Management Academy (ALMA) at Lakewood High School in St. Petersburg, Florida, got a surprise when they returned to school last week. A new fitness and training center was waiting for them. 

Thanks to a generous donation of exercise equipment from Valor Fitness and a $25,000 grant from the Johns Hopkins All Children’s Foundation, the Academy will provide current and future students with the tools they need to get a job as a personal trainer and prepare them to take the National Association of Sports Medicine Certification exam. In addition, the ALMA medical curriculum provides a base for future medical studies and even offers a pathway to gain certification as a medical administrative assistant upon graduation. The program’s new facility provides resources to promote fitness throughout the Lakewood community.  

“Knowing this project would benefit students and lead to healthier lifestyles was something everyone could get behind,” says Patrick Mularoni, M.D., medical director of the sports medicine program at Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital.  “This is a chance for us to help the community foster wellness and avoid some of the medical issues we often see in the hospital. ALMA encourages students to enter the field of health and wellness or medicine. This is something not available in a regular high school curriculum.” 

“Our collaboration with the hospital started in 2014,” says Erica Miller, an ALMA instructor and certified athletic trainer at Lakewood High. “Thanks to Kellie Gilmore and her team in the hospital’s community education program, the Lakewood student-led health squad, supported by the hospital, helps promote good nutrition, the school’s food pantry and exercise classes for Lakewood students. Each year, the program continues to grow and now includes support of ALMA.” 

Originally, most of the $25,000 grant from the hospital’s foundation was allocated for the purchase of fitness equipment to train ALMA students. Mularoni’s research led him to St. Petersburg-based Valor Fitness and President Jim Vanderbleek, who also happened to be a graduate of Pinellas County Schools.  

As Mularoni began explaining the program and sharing the list of equipment needs, Vaderbleek quickly realized that this was a special program. 

“I’m approached often for donations,” Vanderbleek says. “I call it the give-get relationship. What do you give, what’s it going to cost and what do you get? In this case, when I analyzed the ‘get,’ I said let’s do it and make an impact.” 

Mularoni said he had no clue that Valor Fitness would donate the equipment. 

“It was an easy decision for us,” Vanderbleek says. “You see the students involved in the program, but you also see the passion of those who are going to administer it. The return on investment from this donation was obvious.” 

Because of Valor’s generosity, the use of the grant funds will not only fund additional exercise equipment but can also be expanded to maintain and to replace equipment in years to come. 

“Our collaboration over the years with the hospital has been outstanding,” says Lakewood High principal Erin Savage. “This donation to support the ALMA program takes it to a new level. We are so thankful to the hospital and especially Valor Fitness. Words cannot express what a donation of this amount means to our school and students. We are very excited.” 

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