NovatoSpirit, a 501(c)(3) public charity, is giving a boost to Novato’s most vulnerable children by working to improve their physical and mental health through sport and exercise. According to the Novato Unified School District, about 2,600 Novato students are living in poverty, and at least 130 of them are homeless. Poverty can magnify health problems, and many of these children struggle with health issues, such as asthma, obesity, diabetes, motor-skill difficulties, speech delays, anxiety, depression and PTSD.

The negative effects from some of these distressing health issues can be alleviated by regular exercise, but most after-school fitness and sports programs are beyond the financial reach of impoverished families. To help families overcome this financial barrier, in 2005, Marian Huntington founded KarmaSpirit, which does business as NovatoSpirit. Since then, she and fellow Board Directors Alison Moore, RN, and Suzanne Daggert, CPA, have helped hundreds of kids participate in carefully selected after-school programs offering karate, taekwondo, dance and soccer.

NovatoSpirit’s goal is to make a long-term impact on children’s lives by making fitness an important and regular feature. It does this by enabling each participant to practice an activity for five years. This is costly: each NovatoSpirit child requires an average of $5,000 of funding over those five years. But the health impacts are immense.

Tracey Hessel, MD, Lead Pediatrician of Novato’s Marin Community Clinic, has been a longtime champion, stating, “I have been grateful to have the opportunity to work with this outstanding program and consider it to be an amazing resource for my patients and a force of positive change for our community.” The pediatricians at the Community Clinic are just one of many groups that refer eligible children ages seven to eighteen to NovatoSpirit. Others include the pediatricians at Kaiser Permanente; social workers from the county and North Bay Community Services (formerly the Novato Human Needs Center); volunteer court-appointed special advocates from Marin CASA; mental-health specialists from the county, Seneca Center, and the Center for Domestic Peace; staff from homeless shelters, such as Homeward Bound and Gilead House; and schoolteachers. NovatoSpirit’s valued partners have included the County of Marin; the City of Novato; the Novato Police Department (which serves several NovatoSpirit kids through their educational summer camps and Explorers Program); the Canal Alliance; and Santa Rosa Junior College’s Extended Opportunity Programs & Services (EOPS).

NovatoSpirit achieves effective and lasting positive health impacts with children, says founder Huntington, through five key components: mentorship with a skilled and compassionate athletic instructor; a safe learning environment where all children are watched to ensure no bullying or destructive behaviors occur; continuity of positive physical action over a five-year period; and frequent two-way communication between the families and Huntington, so she can listen and be responsive to their needs; and full participation of parents and caregivers in transportation, spectatorship and conferences with athletic instructors.

The success of NovatoSpirit’s programs is reflected in the praise from the participants in its multi-year programs, and from their parents. (To read some of their testimonials, please visit the “Testimonials & Letters” section of More in-depth testimonials from the children are highlighted in Huntington’s newest book, Movement and Mentorship, Helping Kids Heal through Sports, which will be published in Spanish and English, available this Fall on Amazon.

To learn more about NovatoSpirit’s mission to help children in need, visit its website or feel free to email Marian Huntington at Donations are much appreciated and can be mailed to NovatoSpirit, 936 Seventh Street, Suite B, Postal Mailbox 236, Novato 94945.