Who We are
Today's youth face serious challenges to their basic health and well being. Our youth are eating worse and exercising less, often as a result of factors out of their control. A growing number of youth confront serious health issues such as stress, heart disease, obesity and diabetes. These health problems carry lasting implications and if left unchecked can severely affect a child's long-term quality of life.
Local schools are increasingly being forced to reduce or cut physical education programs altogether and scale back school lunch programs. The health crisis affects youth in low income communities the most. 20% of African American, Hispanic, and Native American children ages 6-19 are considered overweight, well above the national average . Youth in these communities have limited access to healthy foods and safe places to engage in physical activity. Making matters worse, a growing number of young people face violence or the threat of violence in their daily lives.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, "the major barriers most people face when trying to increase physical activity are time, access to convenient facilities, and safe environments in which to be active."
The Austin Foundation provides free fitness and nutrition education for thousands of Seattle/King County area young people ages 5 to 25 each year. The foundation hosts a wide variety of fitness and youth development programs at sites around the city, each of which is tailored to help youth develop physically, socially, emotionally and mentally. The Austin Foundation bridges racial and socioeconomic inequities in health, providing young people the tools and inspiration to live a healthy, active lifestyle.
While many youth organizations focus on team athletics, the Austin Foundation coaches youth in cardiovascular conditioning, flexibility, strength training and nutrition. This model allows each youth "client" to undergo a positive physical transformation that can carry over into other areas of his or her life. By focusing on individual fitness, each child develops a sustainable set of skills and motivation to live a healthy for life.
Young people exit our programs as fit citizens of the world, and many find the transformation in themselves so inspiring that they become passionate advocates for youth fitness education and equality. Ultimately, the Austin Foundation educates and empowers new generations of young leaders.
With every in-school fitness presentation Willie Austin gave in the early 90's, he came face to face with a growing health epidemic. The youth he met faced dwindling school fitness programs. Most did not have the means or safe access to join sports leagues, and too many were developing serious health issues at a young age. Kids with asthma. Kids with diabetes. Kids struggling with obesity.
Seeing a clear need for youth fitness education and programs, Willie Austin began offering the Youth and Fitness training program at the Gateway Athletic Club in 1994. The intent of the program was to provide youth with essential fitness activities and to connect them with caring personal trainers dedicated to their physical, emotional and personal development. In the early years, Youth and Fitness offered free fitness classes with the supported of donated time and gym space from the club, and materials from a dedicated circle of friends and club members.
In 1997 Willie partnered with Ros Ghan to form The Austin Foundation as a 501(c)(3) charitable organization dedicated to meeting the need for youth fitness programming in the Seattle/King County area. Centered on the signature Youth and Fitness program, the Austin Foundation began offering free fitness and health classes at locations around the city. Through partnerships with local schools and community centers, the foundation has been able to expand its program coverage and reach a broader spectrum of underserved youth.
We at the Austin Foundation have been fortunate enough to be able to continue to increase the programs offered and the number students reached thanks to the generous support of our community. Today the Austin Foundation runs a number of after school fitness programs, evening fitness programs at partnering community centers and in-school fitness programs at numerous schools throughout the Seattle/King County area.
In 2008 the Austin Foundation continued to expand its programs and pursue partnerships to make our community healthier and safer. We are honored and excited to join forces with Seattle Children's Hospital to assess the progress of youth in Austin Foundation programs.In addition to attending Austin Foundation fitness activities, in recent years our youth participated in African American Legislative Day in Olympia, facilitated talking circles at the 3rd annual Guiding Lights Weekend, participated in community health policy meetings and joined in programs hosted by Seeds of Compassion.
A native of West Memphis, Arkansas, Willie Austin first joined the greater Seattle community in 1980 when he came to play football for the University of Washington. Following his career as a defensive back for the Huskies, Willie chose to remain in the Pacific Northwest and continue pursuing his love of health and fitness. He began focusing on strength training, and by 1990 was the World Drug Free Powerlifting Champion.
Willie is a well-respected strength coach and personal trainer whose has coached national and world champion weightlifters and trained both amateur and professional athletes. He has worked as a trainer at the downtown YMCA and as manager of the West Seattle health club. In 1988 Willie founded the Gym of Seattle, and in 1992 he founded the Gateway Athletic Club. Willie's latest health club venture, the Now Is Fitness Center in downtown Seattle, opened doors in 2004.
Willie first began giving back to the community by serving as a guest speaker on physical fitness and drug-free living. During his on-campus presentations at area schools in 1990s, Willie began to recognize the growing need for accessible youth fitness programs. He saw first hand youth struggling with diabetes, obesity, and asthma, many of whom weren't comfortable in regular gym class settings. He saw kids who couldn't afford the cost of athletic programs or didn’t have safe access to physical fitness activities.
Inspired to make a difference, Willie persuaded the Gateway Athletic Club to donate time and space to youth programming and in 1994 started the first Youth & Fitness program to provide area youth with free health education and fitness training. In 1997 Willie and co-founder Ros Ghan created the Austin Foundation to continue and expand the program's commitment to the wellbeing and development of area youth.
In addition to his work with the Austin Foundation, Willie has served as an instructor and coach for the Washington State Special Olympics and as a consultant for the Seattle Public Schools Physical Education department. In 1998 the Seattle Times recognized Willie's contribution to the community by listing him as one of "20 Northwest people who have made a difference", and he was named the 2008 Washington State Mindful Mentor Award by the Guiding Lights Network.
17-year old Melvin Mendez has been attending Austin Foundation programs for over 6 years, and has used his work ethic and passion to positively influence the lives of those around him. He has participated in nearly every available Austin Foundation program, including Youth & Fitness, the Jr. Trainers program and C.H.A.T. Melvin has also been a tremendous role model for his younger brother John, who has greatly improved his physical fitness and has become a regular at our gym.
In 2009 Melvin received the Austin Foundation’s Anna Armstrong White Award, given each year to the youth that provides an outstanding example of positive attitude and enthusiasm. Melvin plans to continue on with the Austin foundation as a mentor to youth in both our programs and the greater community.
The Austin Foundation’s Anna Armstrong White Award is given each year to the youth/s that provides an outstanding example of positive attitude, enthusiasm and consistency.
Our devoted trainers inspire our youth to live a healthy lifestyle. These amazing individuals teach youth the fundamentals of fitness and nutrition, serving as a source of motivation and strength for every child that they meet. Get to know some of the talented personal trainers making a difference through the Austin Foundation each day.
Willie Austin - Founder
Ajene Bomani - Robertson
According to Greg, being a part of the Austin Foundation has been a tremendous opportunity for him to get involved with the community and surround himself with strong, devoted leaders. He will return to college in August and believes his body, mind, and soul will be richer as a result of his time with the Austin family.
Andrew Coates, President
Nancy has been a member of the FireArm Crime Enforcement (FACE) Program for the past 5 years where she goes to McNeil Island Corrections Center and explains to inmates being released within 3-4 months the consequences of being caught with a gun or parts of a gun. She also has a gift-filled basket business – Fabubaskets – where she has been selected by one of Oprah Winfrey’s best friends to design Oprah’s birthday basket for the past 4 years. She was chosen as most inspirational employee with Seattle Police Department in 2004 and presented an award for Daring to Love-Daring to Lead for Dedication to Youth by Dr. Brenda Caldwell (Dr. B) on April 10, 2008. She has a 14 year old foster son who has made her house a home.
Kiet was born in Vietnam and immigrated to the United States with his parents and four siblings at the age of three. He grew up in Salt Lake City, Utah and graduated from the University of Utah with a degree in Finance. In 2002, shortly after graduation, he moved to Seattle, WA to begin his career with a financial services company. Kiet was first introduced to Willie Austin in 2008 and immediately gravitated to his cause of empowering youth through fitness and nutrition education. He is married to Mary Grace with whom he shares the joy of giving back to the communities in which they live and work.
Austin Foundation Advisory Board
Jan Sundberg Whitsitt
Our small but dedicated support staff keeps the day to day operations on track while simultaneously advancing the larger mission of the Austin Foundation.
Willie Austin, Founder
Seattle native Ajene-Bomani Robertson has a good understanding of what it takes to communicate and motivate the youth in the Seattle area. Growing up Ajene spent most of his spare time as a youth at the community centers (Miller C.C., Delridge C.C. and Van Asselt C.C.) where his father Rivers Robertson Jr. worked for over 25 years. Ajene understands that the important role youth play in the community and in society in general, and considers outreach work with the youth in the Seattle area his dream job. Ajene has been with the Austin Foundation since March of 2008.
Seattle native Ajene-Bomani Robertson has a good understanding of what it takes to communicate and motivate the youth in the Seattle area. Growing up Ajene spent most of his spare time as a youth at the community centers (Miller C.C., Delridge C.C. and Van Asselt C.C.) where his father Rivers Robertson Jr. worked for over 25 years. Ajene understands that the important role youth play in the community and in society in general, and considers outreach work with the youth in the Seattle area his dream job. Ajene has been with the Austin Foundation since March of 2008.Learn more about Ajene
After graduating from Garfield High School Ajene went on to earn a full-ride basketball scholarship to Seattle Pacific University. Ajene would leave North Queen Anne for a time to play professional basketball in Harstad, Norway. He later decided to cut his basketball career short in order to finish his studies at SPU, earning a Bachelor of Arts degree in Communications. After finishing school, Ajene accepted a position at a marketing firm in New York City (marketing the U.S. Army and AND-1 basketball team). Following three years of working on the road, he decided to re-connect with his passion for helping youth in the Seattle area. Ajene began coaching 6th grade basketball upon his return and quickly moved to coaching high school basketball. He appreciates that the Austin Foundation is a place that gives youth the opportunity for genuine self-expression and the chance to learn more about themselves.
The Austin Foundation motivated me to want to actually want to exercise and be healthy.- Zuri Bethea
Naturally, many private fee-based youth sports opportunities are beyond the
reach of low-income youth, and must be augmented in low-income areas by youth
service organizations, municipal facilities, neighborhood recreation centers,
and of course, informal
American Sports Data Inc
Willie promotes a sense of possibility among the
The Guiding Lights Network
Being in the programs improved my ability to interact with others and I feel more comfortable leading others in the right direction.- Melvin Mendez
Only 25 percent of students grades 9 through 12 engaged in moderate and vigorous physical activity for at least 30 minutes on 5 or more of the previous 7 days in 2003.
- "Physical Activity Facts", U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
More than 10 percent of children between the ages of 2 and 5 are overweight, double the proportion since 1980.- "Physical Activity Facts", U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
A physically active childhood fosters healthy growth and development (bone health),
the maintenance of energy balance (weight control), as well as psychological
well-being (self-esteem, positive body image)
An Important Element of a Health-Promoting School",
World Health Organization