ReDEFINED Fitness calls itself the “neighborhood’s toughest gym,” but Eric Smoot and Silviu Gansca, co-owners of the Wilmette fitness outpost, have a soft spot for giving back.
Every year for the past 20 years, they have challenged their clients to not only build their strength and endurance but to support communities in need.
The fitness studio, which offers personal training, group training, pre-and post-rehab training and sports training, leverages its client base to support under-resourced neighborhoods and nonprofit organizations in the Chicago area through regular charitable efforts.
Giving back was always part of their business plan for the duo who, every year, four times a year, select a nonprofit organization or school to support.
“I’m from the inner city,” Smoot says. “I’ve been homeless twice in my lifetime. I come from an underserved community. So I understand the inequalities that take place in our country, and that these communities need our support.”
Gansca, the son of Romanian immigrants, came to this country when he was 10 and also knows what it is like to face adversity. He and Smoot have always made supporting education part of their mission because they believe it is a way to defeat inequality.
“We understand that the best way to help close the gap when it comes to inequality is education,” Smoot says.
ReDEFINED’s latest charitable targeted schools and was their biggest effort yet. In August, they used $60,000 in donations to purchase Chromebooks and covers for students at a Chicago school.
Just as they always do, Smoot and Gansca put out a call by email and social media to their clients for donations. And just as always, their clients stepped up.
“We use our company as a platform to make a difference in the community,” Smoot says. “We put the request out there and make it easy for everyone. Most people (among their clients) have the means to give but they don’t have the time. I do all the legwork for them.”
The recipient of the Chromebooks was the Sherman School of Excellence in Chicago where Principal Regina Roberts was amazed by the gift that she says will benefit students long into the future.
“The generous donation of the 100 computers to our scholars not only levels the playing field, but also sets them up for success,” she says. “It means a lot for our students to see people outside of the community investing in their futures.”
Such a gift has the power to change the course of young people’s lives. “With all of the violence that plagues this community, this donation could very well change the trajectory of the lives of our scholars,” she says.
Smoot, who grew up in Gary and was a runner at Purdue University, knows first-hand that a lending a helping hand to someone who is facing challenges is powerful. He needed that helping hand when he was in high school.
“My best friend’s mother in high school let me live with them all through high school,” he says. “Basically she adopted me. She didn’t legally adopt me. But she said, ‘You have nowhere to live. You have no place to stay. You have no home. You can live with us. She didn’t have much. But if she hadn’t done that, I would not be where I am today,” he says.
The studio’s other charitable efforts throughout the year include a toy drive in December for children living in homeless shelters, an event in honor of Martin Luther King Day that challenges young people to take part in a day of service, and a clothing drive in the spring for a homeless shelter.
Smoot and Gansca founded their business after meeting through a mutual friend, and discovering they had a lot in common. “We hit it off,” Smoot says. “We had the same goals and we had the same work ethic.” The desire to give back is another common interest for the business partners.
Gansca says he feels fortunate to be able to give back and that the studio’s clients also share in ReDEFINED’s mission of supporting others in need.
“We continue to do these philanthropic endeavors to share God’s blessings with others,” he says. “I feel lucky that our community at ReDEFINED is like-minded so we may leverage their generosity to shine a light on socially conscious living and giving.”
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Ann Marie Scheidler is a freelance writer who lives in the Chicago suburbs with her husband and five children. She tends to be where her kids are, but if you can’t find her there, she’s proudly supporting Beacon Place as one of its newest board members. Beacon Place is a nonprofit organization that has changed the lives of 4,000 children and families in Waukegan. Their innovative programs take a whole child and family approach to education, enrichment and healthy lifestyles support.