By Paula Stepp

Billy Williams had a rough start in life. He was passed back and forth between parents who were struggling with their own problems and addictions. It wasn’t until his grandmother brought him and his sister to Palm Springs that his childhood gained some stability, and then his aunt and uncle invited him to come live with them in Rifle. With encouragement from his aunt, he connected with a counselor at YouthZone. The year he spent working with YouthZone was one of the first times he felt safe with an adult that he could confide in night or day.

Because of his positive experience with YouthZone coupled with a pastor tell him he saw great things in Billy’s future, Billy concluded that an adult’s positive influence can make a big difference in a child’s future.

After many twists and turns, Billy moved back to Rifle as an adult to work in the oil and gas industry. Unfortunately, Billy was laid off in 2017 giving him a new perspective of his life. The layoff gave him back time to spend with his children. He hadn’t realized until then how his job had prevented him from being involved the details of their day-to-day lives. It was at this point that Billy decided to invest his entire savings to start Flex Family Fitness in Rifle.

The family-oriented fitness center opened in October 2019. With help from local parents, the community and a new trainer from the Netherlands, Thomas Uylendbrock, Billy has been able to engage with families to help them develop a new regimen of healthy activities. If a family can’t afford to have kids in the martial arts classes, Billy said he lets them come without paying and lets them help in other ways.

Billy firmly believes that local kids need a place to go when school is not in session. But a place to go after school is not enough on its own; kids also need safe, non-parental adults that they can rely on.

With his childhood history, Billy is able to relate to many of the things that today’s troubled youth experience as part of their daily lives and their upbringing. He has reached out to tell YouthZone what he is doing and used them as a source of information and support to work through some difficult moments with some of the first kids he encountered in his youth programs at Flex Family Fitness.

Amanda Longhurst, the Executive Director of the Collaborative Management Program in Parachute, first met Billy when she was working at YouthZone. Amanda said she gains inspiration from Billy’s ability to recognize a kid in a bad situation and connect with them in a way that makes them feel like someone believes in him or her.

Amanda said that YouthZone looks for wraparound programs that serve to engage youth in positive experiences. She introduced some YouthZone kids to Billy, and they got involved in classes at the fitness center. One of the more popular offerings for youth is the Brazilian Jujitsu program, which teaches self-awareness and self-control. Amanda said parents have reported to her that they have noticed these new skills and habits coming homes with their kids.

Billy has invested everything he has into the Flex Family Fitness, and he hopes that he is able to help youth discover and live up to their full potential. He tells them every day that they can create a better life for themselves if they put their hearts and minds into it.

He has dreams to build a bigger facility and is always looking for new opportunities for local youth from Parachute to Glenwood. Some things are falling in place. The Rifle Telegram and Glenwood Springs Post Independent recently wrote a story about the business, and Garfield’s Re-2 School District awarded the gym the Outstanding Business Partner of the month last January.