The Wellfit Institute, based in Naples, is partnering with Peaks Foundation, a non-profit, on a five-month health, wellness and empowerment program for at-risk teen girls. Wellfit Girls Challenge will conclude with a life-changing trip to Peru and a trek up Machu Picchu, one of the Seven Modern Wonders of the World. The eleven carefully selected teen girls from Lee and Collier County will be featured in a full-length documentary as they embark on the expedition of a lifetime.
“The day I started believing in myself, there was no going back,” says Jill Wheeler, Founder and CEO of Wellfit Institute. “I wanted to create a curriculum that would empower teen girls, and teach them that they can climb high in all areas of life.”
Throughout the five-month journey, Wellfit Girls Challenge teaches the girls about health, wellness, fitness, nutrition, leadership, and, most importantly, themselves.
The curriculum includes weekly personal training sessions with Andrew Miranti, Director of Strength and Conditioning and Assistant Director of Sports Performance at Total Athletic Performance, group therapy and empowerment sessions, fitness activities, yoga and more. The teens will receive expert leadership and personal growth coaching and counseling from Jill Wheeler and Debra Frenkel, Licensed Mental Health Therapists at Wellfit Institute. Miranti, Wheeler and Frenkel are all donating their time and services.
On May 28, the girls will fly to Cusco, Peru, and embark on an eight-day cultural exchange and trek of a lifetime. For most of these girls, it will be the first time they’ve traveled outside of the United States, and for some, the state of Florida. Upon arriving in Cusco, they will meet a dozen Peruvian teens, where they will be immersed into the daily life and traditions of the community.
Over the course of the eight-day expedition, the girls will have toadapt to a new culture, high altitudes, extreme temperature changes, physical challenges and more.
They will tour the city of Cusco, participate in community-building projects, work with local artists and venture to sacred sites. They will visit a local community house and learn, first-hand, about the conditions in which the Peruvian children and their families live. The girls will join together to trek the Lares Trail in Peru, and reach both Machu Picchu and Huayna Picchu, a 15th century Inca site, nearly 8,000 feet above sea level.
The entire journey will be filmed as a full-length documentary, but Wellfit Girls Challenge is more than just a movie, it’s a movement. The documentary will be spotlighted at major international film festivals and theaters across North America and throughout the world. The hope is for the film to have a global impact spreading the Wellfit Girls Challenge mentality that women and girls can change the world.
Jon Fitzgerald, a director/producer with over 20 years of experience in the motion picture business, started filming in Naples the first week of January. “These girls have incredible stories to share, stories that will inspire other teens across the country and all over the world. The film touches on several key issues facing so many today. My hope is this documentary will inspire and empower others along the way,” says Fitzgerald.
Fitzgerald is the Founder and CEO of CineCause, based in Los Angeles. CineCause uses social impact cinemas to affect change in communities across the country.
The girls range in age from 13 to 18 years old and live all over Southwest Florida, including Marco Island, Naples, and Bonita Springs. From depression to insecurities to poverty, these girls face real issues and challenges in their daily lives. Each one has agreed to share herstory and transformation along the way.
Their lives will be forever changed with new relationships and experiences to draw from. Through these adventures, these unlikeliest of heroes will share a new sense of discovery and achievement together, and as individuals. They are certain to undergo personal transformations, finding inspiration that will help to shape the future of their lives.
Marco’s own: Alexis Buhelos
Alexis Buhelos, 14, is a freshman at Lely High School. She was born and raised in Marco Island. She has a twin brother named Andrew. Her parents have owned The Boat House Motel for 23 years.
About a year and a half ago, Alexis started cutting herself. She hid her secret for nearly five months. Alexis says she was bullied in elementary and middle school, and that played a role in her depression. She says she also has ADHD and very bad anxiety, especially during social situations.
Alexis has big dreams to go to the University of Florida to major in Psychology. She would love to one day work with disabled kids, or work in a mental hospital. One of her strengths is writing. She likes being with her friends.
She is a cheerleader at Lely, and loves music and playing the piano.
When asked about the opportunity to go to Peru, Alexis says she’s most excited about helping the kids in Cusco. “I think it will be so amazing to help them,” says Alexis. When asked how she thinks this experience will help her she said she doesn’t know. She doesn’t think there will be any obstacles and challenges. “I think it’s going to be more of an adventure. It will be a blessing, not a curse. There’s nothing scary about it.”
“Alexis feels that if just one person can be helped by her story, it will be worth sharing,” said her mother Desiree.