Friends of Community Fitness receives building owner key 

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GUILFORD — For nearly a decade Friends of Community Fitness has rented space at 31 High St. in the former Guilford Primary School building, first from the town of Guilford for much of the timespan and since 2018 from owners David and Robyn Clark of Clark Enterprises after they bought the structure from the town. After the building was put on the market, organization officials approached the Clarks about purchasing at a significant discount.


The Clarks agreed to a $10,000 sale price with Friends of Community Fitness covering the $2,300 closing costs, allowing Friends of Community Fitness to officially become building owners as of Nov. 22. The now permanent home was recognized with a “Keys to the Building Celebration” on the morning of Saturday, Feb. 29 with Piscataquis Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Denise Buzzelli presenting a symbolic oversized key.


“This is a big deal for us because we purchased this building back in November,” Executive Director Gayle Worden told attendees gathered in the gymnasium.


Observer photo/Stuart Hedstrom
KEY TO THE BUILDING — Friends of Community Fitness Executive Director Gayle Worden (left) receives a symbolic key to the building from Piscataquis Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Densie Buzzelli during a Feb. 29 presentation. Friends of Community Fitness now owns its location on High St. Guilford.


She gave a history of the organization, which dates back to “Vitality Fitness” Worden and her then husband opened in 1996. She said in June 2003 the building and its contents went up for auction with only a few weeks notice.


“Because the center had become a vital center of the community, a group of members and interested friends began to meet to figure out what we were going to do next,” Worden said. “This group decided to go out into the community and ask for signed pledges for donations with the idea that if we couldn’t raise the amount we needed in we would not go out to gather the monies pledged.


“In two weeks we reached our $11,000 goal in pledges and went to the auction with just $1,000 in our pockets in cash. After a stressful day of bidding we were able to purchase the equipment with that $1,000 down payment and we proceeded back into the community for those promised donations. The community responded with that money as well as yearly memberships as a boost. This was a leap of faith for everyone and our community caught us and held us up.”


Worden said the numerous supporters are listed on a hallway plaque, and she said Hardwood Products was instrumental in getting them going and has helped the organization ever since.


She said the next step was to find a home and set up an organizational structure as the non-profit “Friends of Community Fitness.” In September 2003 it opened in the former Abbie Fowler School across the Piscataquis River in Sangerville with a board of directors coming onboard, bylaws approved and after several months Worden was hired as executive director. The facility was also open 24/7.


“Abbie Fowler remained our home until we were offered the space here in 2010 in collaboration with SAD 4 and the town of Guilford,” Worden said. She said for only the second time fundraising help was sought, and these benefactors are listed on another plaque.


“We made the big move to this location in the summer of 2010,” she said. “Once again with help from Hardwood and A.E. Robinson’s trucks and lots of muscle and volunteer hours from our members. Before we made the move we had to completely repaint the space and put in the rubber flooring you see in the weight rooms, build locker rooms and that was all volunteer work.


“The move here was a tremendous boost to our membership, the addition of a basketball court and the proximity to the schools was a major bonus. Our membership swells to over 600 each winter and holds steady to about 520 people year-round, that’s pretty good for a little town.”


“The third time in our 17-year history we asked for financial help was when we put in this flooring in the gymnasium,” Worden said. “Previously the floor had been carpeted and had been there since the 80s when the gym was built. The community and our members responded by buying squares as well as organizing fun activities to raise money. You will see the squares over here on the wall, each one of those squares represents a $100 donation.”


After introducing the dozen directors and staff members sitting on stage, the executive director said, “Presently we’re serving approximately 600 members, offering 17 fitness classes a week including Silver Sneakers, yoga, boot camp, Zumba and ballroom dance. Our instructors receive certifications and trainings to keep them up to date with all the latest trends and safety concerns. We have a large group of seniors that Terri (Palin) serves not only so well with her classes but with her potluck and various activities throughout the year.”


“You’ll find the gymnasium full of teens after school each weekday which is so handy they can walk just up from the school,” Worden said. “The two weightrooms and cardio equipment are used by everyone. Our 24/7 access to those over 18 is a strong factor in our success, many of our members work in local manufacturing or the hospital and access 24/7 lets them come and go as they please.”


She said pickleball has become very popular and members donated the net, balls and rackets.


“Our members are very generous to Friends of Community Fitness, both with finances and with their time volunteering,” Worden said. “We truly would not exist without our volunteers. They do so much.”


She said organization volunteers assist with the Piscataquis River Festival 5K each July, take fourth-graders fishing to Drummond Pond in Abbot, help run turkey trots for food pantries and the Thanksgiving dinner and man the gates at the Piscataquis Valley Fair.


“They have cleaned and mended, and fixed leaky pipes and so much more,” Worden said. “The total hours for this project has already reached 250 and involved a dozen people,” she said about preparing a new space which could provide a quiet atmosphere for yoga and meditation.


“We have volunteers that help us keep things running, maintain our equipment and maintenance items for our building,” she said. “Without them we would truly be lost, I can’t say enough about their value to our existence and our sustainability.”


“Community Fitness now owns this entire property, the buildings and the six and a half acres it sits on which is a lovely lot here in Guilford and we are blessed.,” Worden said. She said organization officials are thinking about improvements, such as an energy audit.


“One of our program ideas for the future is our healthy cooking series, to offer this we need a kitchen where we can use the stove,” she said, saying the current model does meet fire marshal standards.


“Health and fitness begin with what you put in your body each day,” Worden said. “We’ve got the physical part here but there’s so much more we can do with the nutrition part.”


Worden said another fundraising cycle to keep operations sustainable has begun. “First we would like to recoup what we spent to purchase this building, the total is $12,343 and just this week the previous owners had an appraisal done on it for their tax benefit and it came in at $470,000,” she said.


The executive director said $8,660 has been raised and another $1,400 was recently brought in to near the $12,300-plus goal. Worden said there is not yet a timeline or total for the new campaign.


“So this will be our fourth ask of the community in the last 17 years, I don’t think that’s a bad track record at all,” she said.


Worden said she agreed with Buzzelli’s statement in a press release announcing the Feb, 29 event that the building purchase is a miracle. “We would like to thank David and Robyn Clark for helping make that possible,” Worden said.


“We have taken a few leaps of faith since the beginning to sustain this little nonprofit,” she said. “This purchase is our latest leap. Of course we’ve run our numbers to make sure it wasn’t a leap off a cliff but we also had tremendous faith that this community values what we do here. We work hard and we try our best to serve this community. We value all and value all our members like a family. You are why we began and why we remain here to serve and on behalf of our board and employees I humbly thank you for your continued support.”


Presenting Worden with the novelty key, Buzzelli said the program was much more than a grand opening. “This is a great example of what happens when like minds come together, when communities come together, when we work toward a common goal,” Buzzelli said. “This is an endeavor that is the result of the love and the donations and the time and effort and blood, sweat and tears and everything that goes into doing something like this.”


“Every time something major like this happens in the county I can’t help but get all kinds of happy feelings, it’s one of the reasons I love being in this area,” Buzzelli added.


Speaking of the $10,000 real estate transaction plus purchase costs when the building is valued at nearly $500,000, she said “if that’s not a miracle I don’t know what is.”


Buzzelli said the Chamber believes in Friends of Community Fitness. “We are really proud to have you as a member of our Chamber and as a huge, huge piece of our community,” she said.


Before the program conclusion Board of Directors President Wendy McKenney said, “I would just like to say all the employees and board members are so thankful to have Gayle as our fearless leaders. We are blessed to have you.”

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