By Katie Demeria
STEPHENS CITY -- According to Hilary Greene, owner of Chick Fitness in Stephens City, her gym's purpose is to empower women -- which is why she has hung donated bras from the ceiling.
Along with employee Sherri Lee, Greene has been encouraging members to donate their lightly used bras to the gym in order to benefit women who have been victims of sex trafficking.
Chick Fitness has teamed up with the Free the Girls foundation, a nonprofit that sends the bras to the safe houses in which those women reside so they can sell them in their local communities and learn how to create small businesses.
The women can make five times the average minimum wage by selling the bras, Greene said.
"It helps get them back on their feet," she said. "They're starting over, and the safe houses offer counseling and those other sorts of services, so this is like learning the business side."
"Women need to be on the same team," she added. "Especially in the business world. We need to band together, there's strength in numbers."
The gym's goal was to collected 250 bras by the end of February. As of Thursday, they had collected 255.
Greene decided to hang some from the ceiling not only because they make for colorful, interesting decoration, but also because they remind women working out of both their own empowerment, and the cause of the drive.
"We try to create a positive message that's not just about what women look like," Lee said.
Greene said the gym has sponsored a charitable drive every month for the past six months, usually collecting coats and other winter clothes to donate to WATTS, the temporary thermal shelter in Winchester.
"It's very important to give back, whenever you can," Greene said. "And I think doing it through the gym gives people a direct route to do that, where otherwise they might not be aware of where to go if they want to give back."
Gaining donations for the Free the Girls foundation was relatively simple, Greene said. The gym advertised the drive in its newsletter and was able to meet their goal through their members' participation.
"I think it was word of mouth," Lee said. "We have 100 members, and they told their friends, so it's pretty impressive, that we got 255 bras out of 100 people."
Chick Fitness is designed, Lee added, to be a safe place for women, where they can exercise without worrying about being judged.
"It's a safe space," she said.
The gym provides that safe workout environment to women of all ages, encouraging mothers to bring their daughters if they are in sixth grade or older.
"It's good for them to see what women of real health actually look like," Greene said.
Greene and her team celebrated Chick Fitness's one-year anniversary on Feb. 11. She said she hopes to expand within the next five years so as to offer more services to her members.
Next month, she plans on adding a corrective exercise therapy program, in which women can be trained to slowly strengthen their muscles before starting physical therapy, making a slower transition into regular exercise.
"We really do minister the whole woman, her body, soul, and spirit," Lee said.
Contact staff writer Katie Demeria at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or firstname.lastname@example.org