West Hartford fifth-grader George Udal organized the six-week program that raised $2,500 for Dog Star Rescue.
By Ronni Newton
George Udal may be just 11 years old and in fifth grade at Duffy Elementary School in West Hartford, but he has already learned the importance of fitness and philanthropy.
Sunday, April 2 was the final day of the six-week winter session of Fitness Class Training, a running club for kids ages 3-12. By the time the program concluded, George had raised $2,500, which he donated to Dog Star Rescue’s “Dog Star 4 Vets,” a special dog adoption program for honorably-discharged U.S. armed forces veterans.
Back in 2020, George, then an 8-year-old, started Fitness Class Training in his West Hartford backyard as a way to stay fit during COVID. With the support of both of his parents – Betsy and Matthew Udal are avid CrossFit enthusiasts and involved in other athletic pursuits, and both are also actively involved with area nonprofits – George also opted to charge a nominal fee for the fitness classes and donate the proceeds to charity.
It started off with just friends and family members, but the program has continued to grow. Kids from several towns participated in the Fitness Class Training program that just wrapped up, which was held Sunday afternoons at the Conard High School track. They would run laps, with the goal of going a bit farther each week, Betsy Udal said.
“This season there was a bonus of fitness stations for the kids, which seemed to be the part they liked the most,” she said. “There were kettlebells, sled pulls, sandbag carries, jump roping, ladders, and several other fun fitness challenges. The kids earned charms to hang from their backpacks for doing the fitness stations and for running the miles.”
In less than three years of operation, Fitness Class Training has become a 501(c)(3), and in 2022 donated more than $20,800 to local charities, Betsy Udal said – organizations focused on animals and/or veterans that also include Open Doors Outdoors and Run for the Wild at the Bronx Zoo.
Overall donations to Dog Star Rescue exceed $14,000, including the $2,500 donation to Dog Star 4 Vets from the most recent session.
“We match qualified veteran service men and women with deserving homeless abandoned dogs,” program manager Bonnie Gaynor said of DS4V.
“Our goal is to place dogs who have ended up in shelters as a result of being abandoned or owner surrendered, into permanent homes with military veterans, where they are cared for through respect and companionship. We offer discounted adoption fees for honorably discharged veterans, discounted veterinary care through Veterinary Care Everywhere, and financial assistance for approved training programs,” said Gaynor.
Gaynor said Dog Star is proud of the program, and noted that “companion dogs for military veterans can improve mental well-being, motivate veterans to get up and go out in the world, and enhance disabled veterans transition into civilian life.”
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