Shana Skillstad had never considered working with kids before L.D. Richardson asked her to put together an after-school fitness and nutrition program for Completely Kids. The moment she accepted, Fitucate Nutrition & Training was born.
It was 2014, and word about her program began to spread. Skillstad was working full time at CHI Health in the weight loss management program.
“I was asked to come to more schools, but I couldn’t because of my schedule at the hospital,” she said.
It was a conversation with Douglas County Treasurer John Ewing that pushed her to take a risk.
“He said, ‘I’m not telling you to quit your job, but you are built to do more than working for somebody. Your vision and what you want to do is outside of what you’re doing; That’s been a steppingstone for you, but it’s time for you to [move on],’” she remembered.
She quit her job, telling her worried parents that if she didn’t try, she’d never know what was possible.
Then, her business began to grow as not only more after-school providers reached out, but also individuals seeking personal training. She added after-school sessions at Lothrop Elementary, then Belvedere, Gomez and Castelar. She coached individuals in their homes or at Planet Fitness.
“Then I started thinking about a gym space,” she said. “I didn’t have any overhead, but I wanted to grow the business.”
She opened the gym at 6052 Wenninghoff Rd. in Omaha near Northwest High School in 2016.
Since then, she has received additional contracts from Completely Kids, as well the YMCA, Collective for Youth and DREAM, allowing her curriculum to reach over 2,000 students. Fitucate currently operates in 20 schools in the Omaha Public Schools district, and six schools in the Council Bluffs Schools district.
“Each week, [the students] have a different topic and a different activity that they do, teaching them about healthy food and how to stay active. We do some mindfulness activities, like yoga and meditation,” Skillstad said.
The biggest challenge isn’t finding children to serve, but rather finding the instructors. Because they work with kids after school, potential instructors have to be available when students end classes, around 4 p.m. for elementary students, and 3 p.m. for middle school students. On top of scheduling, instructors also have to like working with kids, or, at the very least, be patient.
“These kids, it’s the end of their school day, so they’re tired, they’re sick of sitting still, so the attention of a kindergarten class is different every day,” Skillstad said. “So there’s got to be a lot of flexibility to how you’re approaching individual kids or the class. And if you get through half of the curriculum, you get through half of it.”
Instructors aren’t required to have certifications, but they have to have experience and knowledge in fitness and nutrition. Skillstad said some after-school instructors are retired teachers, or yoga instructors, or interns studying various fitness disciplines at the collegiate level.
Outside of the after-school programs, Fitucate offers six-week group programs for youth, teaching them the basics of weight training, conditioning, and proper movement.
There are also six-week programs for adults, generally consisting of two workouts at the gym and three at home through an app, on varying focuses from glutes, to muscle building, to weight loss.
“Each thing that we offer is either for an individual or a group,” she said.
“I get a lot of people who like the class structure. They like the competitiveness, they like the cohesiveness, they like being with other people. I’ve also had a few of my clients for 10 or 12 years, and they’ve done personal training forever. A class would never be something they would want.”
Being the Change
Early on, her experience working with youth in low-income areas opened her eyes to the challenges students were facing. She admits that she was somewhat oblivious given her upbringing.
She decided she needed to do something to help, even if it was something small. As a member of Thrivent Financial, she learned she could apply for an Action Team and receive $250 in seed funding. She applied, and upon receiving the money on a gift card she went promptly to the department store and purchased 20 coats for kids participating in the after-school program.
That was nine years ago, and since 2016 alone Koats 4 Kids, run through the Fitucate Foundation (formerly Fresh Wellness Foundation), has matched 4,000 kids with coats, hats and gloves.
One year she recalled going to the Walmart’s in Omaha, Papillon, Bellevue and Council Bluffs and purchasing their whole stock.
“We had shopping carts tied together with bungee cords and then coats just like thrown all over,” she recalled. “So it’s been fun.”
Skillstad set the bar high in 2022 with a goal of raising $15,000 to purchase 500 coats. While they didn’t quite meet the mark, they were able to donate 408 coats.
Knowing that the healthy lifestyle needs to follow kids outside of the classroom, the Foundation has been working on supplying Healthy Lifestyle Kits. The kits provide families with exercise equipment – such as resistance bands and jump ropes – and exercises to follow, as well as healthy recipes.
In July the Foundation hosted its first Golf tournament to raise money for Healthy Lifestyle Kits. They were able to raise $12,000.
Other events include Back 2 School, where barbers and nail technicians donate their time and services to get kids excited for school.
“Giving back to the community was something that I always felt was the most important thing,” Skillstad said.