Partnership Creates New Energy for Petaluma Youth
Petaluma Cross Fit Sav-Up gym owner and performance coach Keith Michelucci has a soft spot for struggling youth, as someone who got into a bit of trouble himself when he was younger. That’s why he didn’t hesitate to collaborate with Side By Side’s YouThrive to create a program combining physical activity, nutrition coaching, and positive role modeling for youth at the precipice of troubling behavior.

YouThrive works with young people who have been referred by school administration, law enforcement or parents because of truancy, failing grades, seriously challenging behavior, or gang activity. Typically held onsite at schools in the North Bay, group sessions equip participating youth with the mindset and coping skills to stay on a positive path. 
Recognizing synergy between Michelucchi and YouThrive program manager Adrian Maldonado, local sportscaster, Sav-Up member, and Side by Side board member Rich Walcoff made an introduction. And in February, an after-school workout program (including gratis training from Michelucci) was started to compliment the in-school group sessions. 

While YouThrive staff continued their group programming via Zoom after COVID-19 shut down schools, the workouts had to be suspended. Now, six months later, many of the kids are “Zoomed out.” Recognizing the importance of keeping the youth engaged, Maldonado got the workout program back up and running in July, though outdoors and socially distanced.
Maldonado has also worked hard to provide the youth with transportation to the gym while maintaining everyone's safety with the use of masks, Plexiglass shields, open windows, and limiting the number of students in the van.

“These youth are resilient,” says YouThrive Youth Specialist Vernon Pope-Banks. “Our program stresses the benefit of getting out of the house every day. When they resist, I challenge them to make healthy choices by asking, ‘OK, then what would you do? What price would you pay for your mental health?’” 

Walcoff couldn’t agree more. With over 30 years as a KGO sportscaster and sideline reporter for the San Francisco 49ers, Walcoff has interviewed dozens of professional athletes who came from difficult backgrounds. “Many of these athletes were behind the 8-ball as kids and blossomed through positive influence. That positive influence is exactly what YouThrive provides.”
Self-esteem and good energy are already improving since the workouts were re-instated. One youth commented, “It’s really nice to get out of the house. I've got an outlet if I’m feeling upset, angry, or stressed.” Darlene, a recent San Antonio High School graduate, is taking advantage of the training to help meet physical requirements for joining the Marines.

Alejandro, a Casa Grande Middle School student says, “The workouts are really fun. I have been eating more healthy and getting stronger. I would probably be playing video games all day if I never went to CrossFit SavUp.” 
“The benefits of physical exercise for teens cannot be understated,” says Michelucci. “Studies show that exercise can decrease stress, anxiety and depression, but even more important is the boost in self-confidence and self-esteem. As someone who struggled as a youth, I am thrilled to offer this free training program to complement the excellent work being done by YouThrive.”