Franchisees lend helping hand to causes close to the heart
At the heart of every Planet Fitness® is a simple objective: help others. Members use PF® services to improve their health, and opportunities for growth and success await employees. In turn, those members and staff are the driving force behind PF’s ability to positively impact the lives of those in the communities where they operate.
Planet Fitness franchisees are pledging resources each day to provide assistance to those in need. Led by the brand’s Judgement Free Generation™, clubs across the country are partnering with the Boys & Girls Clubs of America to help STOMP Out Bullying. The compassionate nature of Planet Fitness extends to countless other organizations that share the same goal of giving back.
Philanthropy is ‘who we are’
For more than 35 years, the Thomas family has made positive corporate citizenship a foundation of their business model. The Arthur H. Thomas Cos., which operates six locations in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, continues the tradition by providing each club management team a budget to assist nonprofits and by coordinating special events. The company supports organizations such as the Salvation Army, Sunshine Kids, Altoona Alliance Church, local Boys & Girls Clubs and even a PF softball team.
“We give back to people and organizations that are making life-changing differences; we believe God has put us here in these communities and in our family-run business ventures to be of service to others in need. It’s who we are!” said CEO Don Thomas.
In addition to each club’s budget, team members are offered paid time to volunteer at local community events, and the company seeks feedback from employees on which organizations they are involved with and reinforces the employees with support. “We continue to encourage all of our team members to keep us informed of local community needs, programs and organizations that are doing good things for others and then we check them out. It’s an ongoing process,” Thomas explained. “There have been quite a few incidents where we have helped out a local organization, and the fact that the local Planet Fitness club showed up, provided funds or PF logoed items, and the expressions on their faces and their heartfelt thanks to us for supporting them is touching.”
Research is key to becoming involved with public outreach. Thomas suggests partnering with a charity that is established and credible, along with being properly licensed or registered and financially accountable. “They are out there,” he said. “We need to simply do a little homework to find out who they are, go and meet with them, see them in operation, and you will know who needs your support.”
Impacting the communities where PF operates and touching the lives of the citizens requires more than just tangible resources from franchisees. “It is uplifting, encouraging and provides a renewed sense that each of us can make a positive difference in other people’s lives when we open our eyes and ears to see and hear the needs, and then open our hands to be of assistance to them. It’s a means of being open and vulnerable to others and not ignoring them,” said Thomas.
Helping the community is ‘the right thing to do’
Ask Chris and Ellen Klebba what they enjoy most about their philanthropic endeavors and chances are they will say, “Making wishes come true.” The Klebba Group’s 13 clubs in Michigan and northern Indiana are actively involved in each of their respective communities – the company totaled more than $54,000 in donations and sponsorships at 14 recent events. “We also typically donate $5,000 to the local Boys & Girls Club when we open a club,” said Chris Klebba. “Giving back to the communities we are doing business in is our second companywide goal, and we take it very seriously. We feel so blessed to be part of this brand and have enjoyed success we never dreamed of – we feel a strong obligation to give back.”
In the couple’s 11 years as franchisees, working with Make-A-Wish® America touches their hearts. The group collaborated with other Detroit owners for two years for the organization’s Michigan Walk for Wishes, donating more than $35,000 last year alone. “The sea of purple Planet Fitness and Make-A-Wish T-shirts is so amazing to see,” Klebba said. “Our group participates in and sponsors a lot of great causes, but when you can actually meet, visit with and look into the eyes of the child and his or her family that you are directly helping, that puts it at an entirely different level and makes it very real. You can actually feel the hope of these struggling families, and your heart just aches.”
Watching the struggles of those close to the Klebbas has left them with the desire to do more to support cancer research and perhaps one day establish a family charitable fund. “Ellen lost her mother at a young age to cancer as well as her best friend, and most remember our special regional manager, Josh Lemons, who lost his battle to cancer at the age of 26. Every day, we watched as Josh went from a healthy young man full of dreams and passion to a person fighting his battle with bone cancer,” Klebba said. “In addition, I have a soft spot for single mothers. I see everywhere, even in our company, how tough it is for single moms, and many do not have family support, which makes the situation so much more difficult. I cannot bear the thought of a little girl or boy not having food, clothing or a gift for the holidays.”
Management encourages participation in the company’s efforts by leading by example. Each club receives a budget for charitable causes, and the group works to reward those actively involved in giving back. Chief Operating Officer Adam Willaeys works with managers and their teams to select and support each club’s endeavor. One of the favorite events is Leco Corp.’s Fit 4 Fall 5K, held each year in St. Joseph and Benton Harbor, Michigan. Staff throughout the Klebba Group attend the event, even tie-dying matching shirts.
“We’re always encouraging every staff member to find the bullseye in their market or town, and it is a constantly moving target,” Klebba said. “I look at our Northville club as an example. It has supported us since 1995 as a local club and since 2004 as a Planet Fitness. If the target for them is a huge barbecue that the Rotary Club is putting on for charity or a large parade, we should be at the center of that.”
Whether time or money, Klebba recommends franchisees decide which causes are important and have a plan for their company. Through PFHQ’s work with the Boys & Girls Clubs, connecting at the local level is easy for those searching for a place to start.
In the same way it donated bottled water to the Boys & Girls Club during the Flint water crisis, the Klebba Group will continue its work with the organization going forward. “We are going to continue to look for the bullseye I talked about and also to connect locally with the national PF cause,” Klebba said. “We are also hoping to develop ways to measure our impact so we can improve our odds of offering real help to the communities we serve because it is just the right thing to do.”
‘This is our culture’
Sometimes the definition of giving back goes beyond working with charitable organizations and straight to the cause itself. With eight clubs in Michigan and Ohio, Cambridge Fitness is leading the way with its partnership with the Cuyahoga County (Ohio) Board of Developmental Disabilities (CCBDD). Together, the two find job placement for people with special needs, including the company’s Planet Fitness locations.
“Working with CCBDD is huge because I had a relative who had Down syndrome, and to see the effect on not just her life but her friends’ and family’s lives when the opportunity was presented to her spoke volumes,” said Tony Silvas, general manager of the Richmond Heights, Ohio, club.
Silvas reaches out to other companies to encourage participation in the program, including sitting on a summit panel to discuss the positive impact to PF. He hopes the effort shows that, just because someone is labeled with a disability, when given a chance they can display how capable they are. “Every day these people grow on us and grow as an individual. Before you know it, they are part of the team. They are the reason we do better, come to work and work harder,” Silvas said. “Even for the members, these employees are awesome because they make them feel as though they belong as well. It becomes part of the routine.”
With future plans to sponsor a 5K, Silvas encourages those within Planet Fitness to have faith that the policy and procedures in place regarding philanthropic endeavors will work. “Planet Fitness is the Judgement Free Zone®. This is our culture!”
‘We are all in this together’
The Rhode Island and southern Massachusetts Planet Fitness locations have taken a team approach to giving back. The marketing co-op there, which includes Steve Eddleston’s 13 clubs, pools advertising dollars and manpower to contribute to one of the region’s largest charities: the Gloria Gemma Breast Cancer Resource Foundation.
“We have been doing the Gemma since almost the beginning – I want to say 2010,” Eddleston said. “Rhode Island is very passionate about it. It is one of the biggest philanthropic events in Rhode Island every year.”
Established in 2004, the foundation grew from a website into an organization that provides holistic programs for breast cancer patients. The impact of the PF’s work with Gloria Gemma has been felt at so many levels. “It is interesting that Gloria Gemma is related to one of the plumbing and heating companies we use in the region,” Eddleston said. “We know lives that have been lost from the disease, so it is very personal.”
“There have been a few members in our clubs who have suffered from breast cancer and they are always grateful, particularly in our Warwick club,” said Jessica Miller, operations manager for Eddleston. “I have had several ladies who came up and thanked us. In 2010, we did a 5K walk that we started with, and there were several members who participated in that with our Planet Fitness team.”
Finding support for the cause within the company – and the co-op – has been no problem. “Every year we have volunteers for the Gloria Gemma event, and our staff just come out of the woodwork wanting to participate. It’s never been a matter of us having to make them go – they just want to go. They all just come together as a team across all 13 clubs,” Miller said. “In the Gloria Gemma aspect, the co-op pools together money to help fund the advertising around it, and for volunteers, we also pull from those clubs that aren’t within our ownership group.”
“The whole region participates in it. It was not something we did alone; we did it with all the other ownership groups. I want to give them all the credit as well. We are all in this together. It’s a team effort,” Eddleston added.
When it comes to selecting an outlet to give back, Eddleston suggests franchisees look at what is important to the area and consider pooling resources through a co-op for larger impact. “I think as a franchise operator you have to look at how you can best impact the overall community,” he said.
In addition to Gloria Gemma, Eddleston’s locations work with the Rhode Island Food Bank during the holiday season and plan to expand their involvement with PF’s national efforts with the Boys & Girls Clubs. “We all feel we are doing some good for our members, for the families of our members, for the neighbors of our members whether we are employees, members or owners,” Eddleston said. “Hopefully, this philanthropy will touch somebody you know for the better, maybe save lives. That is the impact – you hope to save lives in the community.”
Contributions ‘provide a bit of normalcy’
When it comes to the matter of saving lives, Taymax Fitness is working with a Boston organization to make every day as normal as possible for children fighting for their lives.
Connor Flanagan’s life and that of his family was forever changed in 2005 when he was diagnosed with leukemia. During his hospital stay, Connor missed having “real” pizza, so the Flanagan family began sponsoring Friday night pizza parties on the oncology floor at Boston Children’s Hospital. Shortly thereafter, the Connor Flanagan Foundation was born.
Over the course of several years, as Connor continued fighting medical battles, the foundation continued to find ways to help ease the feeling of helplessness for these young patients and their families. In addition to ongoing Friday pizza nights, the foundation also provides coffee service for parents on the medical ICU floor; “sibling” bags for patients’ young brothers and sisters, which are filled with items chosen just for them; and most recently, iPads for the children to stay in contact with their friends and families. Everything the foundation does is intended to make the lives of young patients and their families just a little bit easier.
When Taymax Fitness heard about the foundation’s efforts, the company stepped in to help provide support for a worthwhile cause. “Being involved in our communities and giving back to those who support us is at the center of our values,” said franchisee Tim Kelleher. “Partnering with the Connor Flanagan Foundation has been an incredible experience for me and for our staff. It is difficult to comprehend the battles these children and their families face each day, but by working together, we have been able to help bring a bit of normalcy into the most trying of times.”
The Friday night pizza parties continue to this day on the oncology floor. Not only is this an event the children look forward to each week, but the parents are able to briefly escape the daily rigors of coping with pediatric cancer.
Now 17, Connor is a senior in high school and will be attending college next fall. He and his dad were on hand at the Taymax Thanksgiving staff luncheon Nov. 22 at Tuscan Kitchen in Salem, New Hampshire, to accept a donation on behalf of the organization.
‘Collectively, we’re contributing to something bigger’
The Raimondo Group found a cause in one of humanity’s most basic needs: food. With six locations in New Jersey and Indiana, the company helps fight hunger in local communities by hosting food drives where members, staff and local citizens can drop off nonperishable food items at each club. All food collected remains in the community.
“Sometimes it’s easy to take for granted what we have. Realizing the struggles some families and people go through wondering where their next meal will come from is quite humbling,” Marketing Manager Jeff Powell said. “The ability to give back in what seems like such a simple manner, and the impact that it can have on another person, makes it completely worthwhile.”
While causes close to Powell personally include animal welfare; quality care for those in assisted living and nursing homes; and Parkinson’s disease, the group uses charitable work to raise awareness for larger issues such as fighting hunger. “It’s important for us to partake in charitable efforts because of the positive effects it has on the community and those in need. It also promotes goodwill for the company, and provides a feeling of satisfaction and gratification on a personal level,” Powell said.
To promote involvement within the clubs, the Raimondo Group distributes fliers to members, posts signage in the clubs and shares information through social media. “We have great staff and their genuine excitement and support for the campaign translates to our members whether it’s a food drive, toy drive or any other event,” Powell said. “This is our greatest form of advertising. Our members pick up on the enthusiasm of staff and want to share in the excitement.”
When picking a philanthropic endeavor, being passionate about the cause will affect everyone involved. Whether collecting donations, volunteering or simply increasing awareness, genuine excitement will create a more engaging experience. “Regardless of what else is going on at work, home or anywhere else, knowing that, collectively, we’re contributing to something bigger, that’s uplifting. That sense of gratification trickles down from management, to staff and every contributing gym member,” Powell said. “It’s a wonderful feeling to experience.”