At MissionFit, Wesley Jamison Teaches Life Skills to Young Adults

Not only is the Remington gym a free place for teens to exercise and blow off steam, but it also links movement to things like mentorship, business and financial literacy, healthy eating, and mindfulness.
—Photography by Mike Morgan

Although he had trouble focusing in high school, Wesley Jamison found direction, strength, and more in the then-newly erected gym at The Park School.

“I felt safe in there,” he says. “It was just me, my goals, my challenges. I would go during lunch. I could focus in a way that was very hard for me outside of the gym.”

Today, the 2005 Park alum and Baltimore City native aims to provide a similar environment for teenagers and young adults in the city as the executive director of the nonprofit MissionFit. Operating out of Remington, steps from the crocodile mural, the organization offers not only free fitness classes for young people but room to grow, too.

What does MissionFit do?
We’re using movement and coaching as a language to develop health, wellness, independence, and leadership capacity in the young people that we work with. At one level, that might be offering a place to exercise, have fun, and sweat, because I know they don’t have great access to places where they can move and blow off steam. We see about 500 people in a given year and 200 regularly. We have young people who say, “When I’m stressed, I need to come to the gym.” We give them access and show them how to use the gym.

At another level, in our Strength Ambassadors program, we’re using coaching to take 18- to 20-year-olds and put them in front of 13- to 15-year-olds and allowing them to be the leaders of the programming. They get paid for their work, so we also talk about business and financial literacy, as well as things like healthy eating, cooking, mindfulness, and yoga.

How did the Strength Ambassadors program start?
The initial idea was to give the young people we work with the skills so that they can be the coaches and broadcast our message way beyond our walls and to the people that surround them. I really think about health from as global of a perspective as possible. I believe your health is affected by this global arena of determinants. I would argue things like finance, or job and college readiness, all have a potential effect on your health and wellness—and vice versa. We know that movement and exercise help with executive function. So if we can tip as many of these levers as possible in favor of young people, we give them the best chance to be healthy and well and thrive.

What are some of the most critical issues faced by the youth you’re working with?
A lack of safe spaces to exercise, safe and reliable mentors, or connection between young people. For us, access to a space and the people that young people need to be [around to be] healthy is where we’re sitting at. I had a 17-yearold come into the gym the other day and say, “I’ve never been in a gym before.” But even if that young person comes in, they might not know what to do. So you need the safe space, but you also need guidance, and we’re trying to do both.