Isenberg Students Create an Exercise Club for the Homeless

February 26, 2013

McGrath & Fox in their Club sweatshirts.McGrath & Fox in their Club sweatshirts.This semester, students in Isenberg's Mark H. McCormack Department of Sport Management are engaging members of Northampton's homeless community in a new student initiative, the Northampton Exercise Club for the Homeless. Under the current arrangement, students--with support from Springfield-based Mercy Health Care for the Homeless and its site in Northampton--meet with homeless participants on Friday mornings to jog, shoot hoops, and bond as a community. 


"It demonstrates the power of sports to do positive things off the field," emphasizes Reed Fox, who with fellow McCormack sophomore Mike McGrath has propelled the project,  thus far attracting 30 volunteers. During and after the workouts, the students, who aim to be resources beyond sports for the participants, build relationships with them. "Many of the participants feel isolated," continues Fox. "We want to create a sense of community that gives them the confidence and belief to find housing, employment, and education."


"There's a stigma toward the homeless," observes McGrath, who is also community service director of McCormack's student group, the Association for Diversity in Sport. "The club gets us past that and lets us connect with them on a personal level." Over the winter, he adds, the club raised $1,250 via the philanthropic social networking site, The club has used the proceeds to buy snacks and workout clothing with its logo for the participants and active volunteers. It's also received donations of sneakers and sporting equipment from faculty, students, and alumni.


Fox and McGrath joined forces for the project late last fall. They met in (McCormack associate professor) Todd Crosset's course, Sociology of Sport & Physical Activity. When Crosset told Fox about Mercy Health Care's idea to foster an exercise-based initiative involving the homeless, the professor found an experienced exponent in his student: Fox had been a passionate, multiyear volunteer in New York City with Street Soccer USA, which deploys soccer as a positive socioeconomic catalyst for the homeless.


At Isenberg, the Northampton Exercise Club for the Homeless is under the aegis of the School's Citizen First Program, which encourages undergraduates to participate in activities that benefit their academic and nonacademic communities. Isenberg believes that good citizens make good employees, and that employers value Isenberg graduates who embrace that commitment.