Massachusetts League of Community Health Centers (the League) on Friday, Oct. 16 announced its merger with the Fitzgerald Youth Sports Institute (FYSI), named in recognition of its late founder Kevin W. Fitzgerald, who worked on behalf of underserved children in the City of Boston for more than three decades.
"Kevin was a friend and a true hero to kids and I am honored to be able to preserve a small piece of his larger-than-life legacy," said James W. Hunt, Jr., President and CEO of the Massachusetts League of Community Health Centers, a statewide organization of 49 community health centers, 22 of which are based in Boston and provide primary and preventative care to one out of two city residents.
A longtime state representative from Mission Hill, Fitzgerald was both a dedicated public servant and accomplished athlete. Passionate about fitness and health, Fitzgerald was frustrated by the lack of physical activity opportunities for the city's youth. Seeing these inequities, Fitzgerald and co-founder Linda Keefe joined together at the Center for the Study of Sport in Society (SIS) to create the Urban Youth Sports program in 1997. In 2011, the program formed its own 501(c)(3) non-profit entity and was renamed the Fitzgerald Youth Sports Institute to honor Kevin, who had lost his battle to cancer in 2007.
"Together, Kevin and Linda worked tirelessly for children in underserved neighborhoods because they were, in Kevin's words, 'the City's children and they deserve every advantage the City can offer them'," said Hunt.
A former schoolteacher who started at SIS as a volunteer and went on to lead Urban Youth Sports and then serve as Executive Director of FYSI, Keefe has focused the last two decades on using sports as a vehicle for improving the lives of young people.
"Over the past 16 years, FYSI was able to make a difference in the lives of more than 35,000 Boston children," said Keefe. "We focused on the barriers that prevented kids from being active and healthy and worked to knock them down -- one barrier at a time."
Fitzgerald and Keefe chose to collaborate with the city's health centers, assessing their patients' fitness needs and working to both augment existing community-based programs and develop new ones. Over the years, FYSI grew in scope and services, adding broad health initiatives led by youth coordinators trained in areas that included nutrition, violence prevention, anti-bullying and life-skills development.
"Boston's health center leaders saw first-hand the impact these leaders had on children and their families - particularly those affected by chronic illnesses like diabetes and asthma," said Hunt. Based on that success, Hunt explained, the League will adapt the FYSI curriculums to train two "Fitzgerald Fellows" a year. This year's Fellows have already been identified and will work in the areas of childhood obesity, prevention and wellness at their assigned health centers.
"We are thrilled that such a like-minded and mission-driven organization as the Massachusetts League of Community Health Centers will carry on the mission of the Fitzgerald Youth Sports Institute and Kevin's legacy forward," said Keefe.
Added Hunt: "As the new corporate entity for the FYSI programs, and in conjunction with our member community health centers, the League will endeavor to promote and honor the
work of Kevin Fitzgerald and Linda Keefe through its statewide programs, publications and fellowships."