'Jump for Kids' motivates Pinellas County children to keep moving

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Standing over six feet tall, Jeff Pope is a big, strong guy. But he hasn’t always been that way. For most of his childhood, Jeff was the “small kid.”

“I remember being a freshman in high school and running into a senior football player and looking up at him,” Jeff said, and soon after, he started hitting the gym.

“It changed my life. I just love it,” he said.

It didn’t take long for Jeff to see a difference -- both physically and mentally. 

“It’s just tough in high school. I built confidence lifting weights,” he recalled. “When you’re stronger, you feel confident and eventually those big kids weren’t so big anymore.”

Jeff decided to use his experiences to help other kids get and stay fit through his non-profit organization,“Jump for Kids.” The goal is to give students of all fitness levels and socioeconomic backgrounds the opportunity to play team sports and work with a personal trainer.

Jump For Kids helped 400 children in Pinellas County last year. Now, Jeff wants to expand the program into Hillsborough County. 

“We want to fight childhood obesity. So, anything to get their bodies moving and teach them the skills of exercise," he said. 

The kids at New Heights Elementary School in St. Petersburg love the program, especially fourth-grader De'Asia.

“I have fun out here because it helps me with strength,” said De’Asia.

That’s exactly the feedback Jeff is hoping to receive. 

“If they do 10 pushups -- and before they couldn’t do any push-ups -- they're going to feel really good about themselves,” he said. “It gets their self-esteem up, lets them know they're awesome and there’s an athlete inside of everyone.”

Jeff trains big kids too, including 11th-grader Cameron Collier. He trains five days a week. 

“I really value taking care of my body," Cameron explained. "So, hanging around these guys helps me learn tons about taking care of myself and puts me in the best shape possible."

Whether it’s planning for the next game or just running and playing outside, Jeff says “Jump for Kids” is a success if it gives children the motivation to move.