Empowering Girls Through Fitness: Omaha Resident Starts Healthy NonprofitAug 29, 2022 04:32PM ● By Sophie Rossitto
Photo by Bill Sitzmann
Cheri Dickmeyer watched her teenage daughters struggle with body image and insecurities, especially as they consumed social media content that presented perfect or unrealistic images of people.
Dickmeyer, a single mother, was concerned that the rise in social media usage over the past 10 years had put more pressure on young girls to make their bodies look like the filtered, airbrushed images they saw on their screens.
“I thought, ‘Oh, my gosh, that’s adding even more anxiety and comparison issues to these girls,’” Dickmeyer recalled.
She realized people in society would keep spreading the same messages about body image unless they committed to helping young people understand that being strong and healthy is more important than their outward appearance.
That was in 2015, and at the time Dickmeyer provided marketing consulting services to some gyms in Omaha, and ran a health and wellness publication, Complete Transformation Magazine, which is no longer in print. Dickmeyer said she realized her magazine highlighted transformations of people who had improved their physical health, but it did not place enough emphasis on mental wellness.
“I’m a firm believer that you need to focus on both the physical and mental at the same time to get the best results,” Dickmeyer said.
She organized a camp for July that year to teach girls about topics such as physical and mental wellness, nutrition, and social media usage. Dickmeyer reached out to local organizations and fitness and mental health experts for help. Together, they spread the word about the camp on social media, sent press releases to local news outlets, and created a website to promote the event.
Dickmeyer said about 65 people signed up, and multiple news stations covered the weeklong, outdoor camp. Afterward, Dickmeyer received calls from people encouraging her to continue the event’s success. She began taking steps to create a nonprofit, which included filing for incorporation to establish the organization and filing an IRS form to gain tax-exempt status. In December 2015, Dickmeyer registered FitGirl as a nonprofit and put aside marketing for five years to focus on her organization.
Dickmeyer said that although FitGirl received funding from multiple organizations, she and her daughters made many sacrifices to support their family financially during this time. They gave up family vacations while Dickmeyer focused on growing the nonprofit, mainly marketing FitGirl through social media and word of mouth.
Attendance at FitGirl summer camps increased over the five-year period; about 200 girls attended in 2019, at a cost of around $300 per camper each week.
Dickmeyer said she thinks many people have been drawn to FitGirl because its programs address struggles most women and girls can relate to, whether they were bullied in middle school or worried about what others thought of them.
Jodi Aaronson, whose daughter, Adelyn, has participated in FitGirl events for the past three years, said she signed her child up because of the organization’s emphasis on taking care of oneself and building healthy relationships, along with fitness.
“It just really covered all the topics that we thought were really important as she got older in elementary school,” Aaronson said.
Each summer, the camps have offered a variety of outdoor activities—such as kayaking, hiking, and yoga—for girls ages 10 to 14. Mary Morris, who has served as a FitGirl camp counselor for five years, said the camps have included lessons in which Dickmeyer and the counselors discuss topics related to mental wellness with the girls.
“FitGirl isn’t just fitness, that’s just one small piece,” said Dickmeyer, who is certified as a yoga instructor and social-emotional learning facilitator. “It’s really about helping them mentally take ownership of their feelings and their health, and giving them tools.”
Morris said that during past camps at Platte River State Park, Dickmeyer and the camp counselors helped girls gain confidence by climbing a six-story observation tower. Although some girls struggled to confront their fear of heights, Morris said the counselors motivated nearly all the campers to reach the top.
Besides running camps, Dickmeyer said FitGirl volunteers run multiple after-school programs in Omaha and Fremont, and they offer 12-week classes for girls.
Morris, who played collegiate golf at the College of St. Mary, said she discovered the nonprofit as a freshman looking to get involved in the community. Morris said she joined FitGirl because it seemed like an athletic organization. However, she discovered that what set the nonprofit apart was its ability to help campers develop confidence and build character.
Morris said Dickmeyer has done a great job of cultivating her camps around her goal of helping girls.
“She loves teaching these kids how to be empowered, and she wants them to just have fun at the end of the day as well,” Morris said.
Visit fitgirlinc.com for more information.
This article originally appeared in the September 2022 issue of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.