During a summer packed with Boy Scouts camp, travel, and CrossFit training, Prep rising seventh grader Shiloh Ellis found time to fit in one more activity: renovating a children’s after-school center for low-income families.
A member of the CrossFit community since he was seven years old, Shiloh was first introduced to an organization called kettlebells4kids at the 2015 CrossFit regionals in Connecticut.
“This red tent caught my eye, and as I walked by it, a kettlebells4kids volunteer put a sticker on my shirt that said the average age of a homeless child was nine,” he recounts. “I was nine at the time, but I didn’t really know what the sticker meant. I had a roof over my head, a home, food... why didn’t these kids? Something just clicked for me. I wanted to help them.”
A Foxborough-based organization, kettlebells4kids creates awareness around the growing population of homeless children in America, who number around 2.5 million. Working closely with the CrossFit community, kettlebells4kids seeks to leverage the power of fitness to break the cycle of homelessness, and bring the CrossFit ethos of support, motivation, and encouragement to homeless children and their families.
Shiloh now volunteers his time for the group as a fundraiser. Over the past three years, he has visited 16 states, setting up booths at CrossFit and weightlifting competitions, soliciting board members and employees of different companies in the cities he’s visited, and gathering donations from members at CrossFit gyms.
Because of Shiloh’s fundraising success, he was given the opportunity to select which organization the money would benefit. He chose to renovate the Newburyport Learning and Enrichment Center, a space where the children of 44 families living in a low-income housing community play, learn, and create.
“The basement had cobwebs, there was water dripping from the ceiling, and it was cold in the winter and really hot in the summer,” says Shiloh. “Now we’re able to control the temperature, we cleaned up the walls and floor, we have new furniture, bean bags, pillows, tables, arts and crafts supplies, and a whole sewing corner.”
Only July 20, Shiloh, guests, speakers, friends, and local dignitaries celebrated the renovation with a ribbon cutting ceremony, officially recognizing the work that had been done remodeling the Newburyport Learning and Enrichment Center. Among those present were Massachusetts State Representatives James Kelcourse and Leonard Mirra, Senator Kathleen O’Connor Ives, and a staffer from the office of Senator Bill Tarr. Also on hand were Jane Gibbons and Jennifer Hamilton from Bright Horizons Foundation for Children, a non-profit organization that assisted in making this project possible.
Shiloh’s dad, Robb Ellis, says that one of the reasons Shiloh chose the Newburyport Learning and Enrichment Center rather than a homeless shelter is that it gives him the opportunity to interact with the kids after the renovation was complete.
“This fall he’s going to go up there on weekends and run an exercise program,” says Robb. “It gives him the opportunity to stay in touch with the kids.”
He and his dad are headed to the CrossFit Games in Wisconsin this week, and Shiloh has several interviews lined up with key figures in the CrossFit community—athletes Mike Bergeron, Athena Perez, Faith RX gym, and, fingers crossed, the founders of Rogue Fitness. “He’s interviewing these people and taking a video to bring back to the kids at the Newburyport Learning and Enrichment Center to show them,” says Robb.
“The kids don’t know about the renovation yet,” says Shiloh. “We’re planning on taking a video of their reactions when they finally see it.”
This project connected a lot of dots for Shiloh: his love of CrossFit, the benefits of physical activity, and how working with a group like kettlebells4kids can make a difference. When asked about lessons that he took away from the project, Shiloh responds with a reflection on what became a bigger project than he initially imagined. “Your to-do list might seem short, maybe someone has really small handwriting so it doesn’t look like much, but this wasn’t a small project.”
A big project with a big impact.