Grantee Spotlight: Bench Mark Program

We’re pleased to recently award an LOHF Children’s Behavioral Health Grant to the Open Gym program of Bench Mark. We are excited to see how it will impact the futures of young adults benefitting from the program.

We asked Bench Mark’s Executive Director and Founder, Will Kiefer, to give some insight to this program.

What is the vision of Bench Mark, and how did it develop?
I was born and raised in Gettysburg before moving to Lancaster to study both Public Health and Spanish at Franklin and Marshall. Before graduating in 2014, I decided to mentor a few local high school students at the YMCA. I love weight lifting, and I love talking to people, so a fitness-based mentoring program seemed like a natural fit for me.

I reached out to a college professor who connected me with a community leader. That community leader eventually put me in touch with three young men who I would pick up from school a few days a week to train for a few hours in the gym. We would talk about life and I would offer suggestions about how to overcome all of the challenges that pop up when you’re in high school.

Today, Bench Mark is a fitness-based mentoring program. We help young adults live into leadership roles in their lives.

Congratulations to Bench Mark’s Open Gym program for being awarded an LOHF Spring 2021 grant. What is the goal of this specific program?

Open Gym is a free gym facility from 5:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. weekdays, and serves as a place where young adults can escape the stress of everyday life. Exercise is simply the tool that we use to engage our students in discussions about goal setting, mindfulness, and selfcare. LOHF’s support is bringing the Open Gym program to more students in the year ahead.

How will Open Gym elevate the mental well-being of young people?
The key to Bench Mark’s success is consistency. Our program has no defined timeline, and we simply make ourselves available day-after-day, month-after-month, and year-after-year as a resource to our students. Our students always know when and where they can find us, and oftentimes that level of consistency is the foundation that they use to launch into a number of positive changes in their lives.

Physical fitness plays a key role in improving mental health. But Bench Mark Program itself is a physical place of respite for many young adults who need a break from the stress of daily life. We all need a place to rest from time to time, and knowing that our gym is available on a consistent basis provides young adults with a bulwark against the deluge of daily stress that many of them endure. When young adults come to the gym, weightlifting is one of those activities where hard work equates to tangible results! We celebrate little victories in the gym, and that uplifts every student’s spirits!

Our mentors are trained in Trauma Informed Weightlifting practices that help us tailor goals to each individual student that we serve. Some shared goals among our student body are: getting off probation, going back to school, passing a class, finding a job, helping out a family member, and becoming employed at Bench Mark Program.

Can you share an example of Bench Mark’s impact?

Luis* came into the gym with little to no experience in weightlifting. He was truant and, when he did attend school, he would generally sleep through class. His counselor referred him to Bench Mark and he reluctantly agreed to give our gym a try. Luis was surprised on day one when he was pulled into a workout with a Bench Mark student working as a part-time staff member.

This student showed Luis the ropes and made him feel comfortable about the basics of weight training. The next day, Luis was sore, but he felt accomplished for seeing the whole workout through and he went back to the gym that evening. Months later, Luis was attending the gym 3 days per week and setting weightlifting goals for himself. After a discussion with his mentor, he decided to try and work at school just as hard as he
worked in the gym.

Showing up at school was the first step, staying awake was the second step, and the third step was actually doing his schoolwork. After 3 months, Luis brought each of his failing grades up to passing. He believed that he could do it because he had a framework for goal setting that he had established in the gym.

Just as they celebrated little victories in the gym, Luis and his mentor celebrated these academic achievements in the gym too! He rang the goal bell in the gym and shared with the whole gym how he brought all his grades up to passing. His truancy issues resolved, Luis became eligible for Bench Mark’s student leadership program, where he is currently involved as a mentor. He credits his success to the confidence that he built up in himself at the gym and the consistent support from his mentor.

How will the LOHF grant boost this program?
Support from LOHF will enable Bench Mark to continue with a number of critical programs within the Open Gym including our Student Leadership Program and Stronger Together (women only) program. With LOHF support, we will continue to have access to our mindfulness, our authentic communication, our Admired Leadership, our financial fitness, and our legal life skills curriculum. LOHF is helping us to sustain these pillars of our program.

With the support from LOHF, Bench Mark is planning to enroll an additional 6-10 students in the Student Leadership Program along with 6-10 young women in our Stronger Together program. These new students will become a part of Bench Mark’s Open Gym program. They will recommend more students to enroll in the program, thereby doubling (perhaps even tripling) the impact of this support.

To all of the generous LOHF donors who helped to make this possible through LOHF’s Grants program, please know that you are making a generational impact. Your support helps our students see that they can walk a different path, their own path, towards a happy, successful, and fulfilling life. The young adults who are a part of our Bench Mark
gym family have the courage to make changes that impact their future, and their family’s futures, for generations to come, thanks to you.

How can someone connect with Bench Mark?
The best way to get to know Bench Mark Program is to reach out to us through our Website, or our social media pages (Instagram and Facebook). If we receive a message from you, we’ll very likely reply with an invitation for you to come and visit our gym.

Grantees Awarded Spring 2021 Children’s Behavioral Health Grants
LOHF Children’s Behavioral Health Grants
Bench Mark
*Name changed for privacy.