The Hall of Fame Gymnast Sets Thousands of Youth On the Road To Physical and Mental Success With Her Foundation, WHGF
ENSPIRE Contributor: Elizabeth Duchan
Wendy Hilliard, a renowned Hall of Fame rhythmic gymnast and the first black woman to represent the United States internationally, is turning her experiences into a resource for the younger generation. Hilliard is the founder of the Wendy Hilliard Gymnastics Foundation in Harlem, New York, which offers free and low-cost gymnastic programs to children in under-served communities. Improving the physical and mental health of over 20,000 youth in New York City and Detroit, Michigan, Hilliard continues to expand her programs during the ever-changing times.
The WHGF was established in 1996 and soon became what Hilliard deems “the most gratifying work” of her life. She describes how the foundation, whose mission was initially to provide improved physical and emotional health for low-income children, quickly evolved into its own special community. “Working with different partners and organizations, getting the parents involved, seeing the kids and coaches grow has been so rewarding and helped create long-lasting relationships,” said the rhythmic gymnast. As the program continued to develop, with it came to a sense of kinship and stability that the young participants grew to relish.
Hilliard allocates all of her resources to providing high caliber lessons to her students, despite the constraints of funding. “It may not cost that much to take gymnastics with me,” she said, “but the gymnastics are top-notch.” Hilliard explains that success in gymnastics requires a high quality of training, which is often attached to an expensive price that is more easily accommodated in suburban communities.
To fill this prominent gap within urban spaces, Hilliard looked towards fundraising, participating in countless benefit events to supply her students with the training they deserve. “Gymnastics is a remarkable sport and the lifelong benefits an athlete can gain from it are tremendous, but it all starts with the leadership,” she said. “I really feel that my purpose and life’s mission is to help provide access and opportunities to these kids.”
In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Wendy Hilliard Gymnastics Foundation has shifted its focus to utilizing technology to help those struggling with current conditions. The team has released live Zoom classes and online workout programs for children and young adults, offering an online outlet for thousands to remain motivated and in shape. Hilliard has also established a partnership with the New York City Depart of Education to create Wellness Wednesday’s gymnastics, a free online fitness program provided to over 1.1 million students.
“When you’re faced with such a challenge, it makes you take a step back and think [about] how we can move forward and provide our gymnasts with what they need to continue to grow,” declared Hilliard. “Navigating the pandemic has been a challenge and learning curve, but we’re doing our best to continue to support the WHGF to provide opportunities for our kids.”
For more information about Wendy Hilliard, the WHGF, and the services they provide, please visit wendyhilliard.org.