Volunteer team teaches students to avoid obesity

Published on: July 23, 2010


RIVERVIEW – Summer students at Summerfield Crossings Elementary School were treated to a fitness program July 22 given by a volunteer team calling itself “Fitness America.”



Penny Fletcher photo
Jim Miller and Sol Fried of Sun City Center represent Fitness America a nonprofit team that goes to local schools to encourage students to eat right and exercise. Fried got the idea after listening to a speech given by First Lady Michelle Obama saying that obesity has become the leading cause of rejection by the military and writing her a letter.

A trio with varied experience, the team consists of Sol Fried, James Miller, and Dondre Williams, all of whom attend the Sun City Center Fitness Center.

Fried, 89, got the three together after hearing a speech by First Lady Michelle Obama promoting her “Let’s Move” initiative to fight childhood obesity.

After writing to Mrs. Obama, Fried obtained permission from the Hillsborough County School Board to speak to students encouraging them to exercise, eat right and get fit.

As chairman of the group, he first got support from James Miller, 82, a former college president with degrees in Education and Psychology, and Dondre Williams, 34. Williams is a certified professional coach and trainer who also gives motivational talks following a knee injury that took him away from a professional basketball career.

“When I heard Mrs. Obama say that obesity is the leading cause for military service rejection, I realized just how large this problem had grown,” Fried said. “I knew I had to do something.”

Starting Feb. 9 with a talk on Good Morning America and continuing throughout the following months, Michelle Obama has concentrated on her four-pillar “Let’s Move” initiative: teaching parents about good food and nutrition; improving the quality of food served in America’s schools; making good food choices more affordable; and getting people of every age into a pattern of daily exercise.

The group from Fitness America passed this message, along with their own stories, to students in local schools. Since getting together, they have already gone to four elementary schools: Lopez in Seffner, Doby in Apollo Beach, Gibsonton and Summerfield Crossings in Riverview.

“One in three kids in our schools is obese,” said Williams, as he gave an interesting presentation stressing, “You are what you eat.”

Originally from New York City, Williams moved to this area with his family a little more than three years ago. Besides coaching in Sun City Center and at the University of South Florida, he works with people on an individual basis and may be contacted by email at

In a letter to Mrs. Obama, Fried said he hopes other groups around the country will take up the cause and address students on the benefits of exercise and proper diet.



Penny Fletcher photo
Dondre Williams, personal trainer and strength coach, tells students in a summer program at Summerfield Crossings Elementary School in Riverview that they “are what they eat” as he and others give a program about avoiding obesity.

He especially wanted her to know that many seniors are in full support of her efforts to “downsize” children and growing adults before they suffer the health problems associated with too much weight gain.

Fried says that 45 years ago his daughter convinced him to stop smoking. That would have been when he was 44 years old. “This taught me a good lesson,” Fried said. “One that I had learned many years before and one that I have never since forgotten. Good habits, those which bring health to our minds and bodies, are far easier to learn than the bad ones that hurt us.”

Fried said he and his fellow Fitness America buddies don’t want to take over the job of parents, but instead they want to aid them in helping them learn the importance of keeping television and computer screen time down; eating meals as a family whenever possible; and walking more places, including up and down stairs, to get more exercise.

The three definitely practice what they preach.

“The value of exercising, along with the proper diet, cannot be overstated. Your futures as our nation’s leaders are important,” Fried told the students at Summerfield Crossings as they sat on the cafeteria floor.

When asked about some of the meals they are served in the school’s cafeteria on a regular basis, many students named pizza, French fries and spaghetti, although they sometimes get to choose chicken sandwiches, and fried chicken and corn nuggets as the main part of their meal.

“Kids who run out of money, and sometimes the free-lunchers, usually get cheese sandwiches and peanut butter and jelly,” one boy said. He said his older brother, who is in middle school, gets the same choices, although the older students also have the ability to purchase extra items (including sodas and snacks) there.

While it is true that most kids love McDonalds and Burger King, perhaps the First Lady’s concentration on America’s school lunch cafeterias is her best idea of all.

Everyone is aware it is cheaper to feed a large family (or thousands of students) macaroni and cheese or large helpings of mashed potatoes than to give them proper amounts of vegetables, dairy, fruit and meat.

For more information on Fitness America in South County, or to request a presentation at your child’s school, contact Sol Fried at