Hunting Park: Esperanza Trains Young Martial Artists

A line of children stood stiff as boards as Tony Gonzalez carefully examined their stances. Students who did not listen to instructions did pushups. Students who arrived late did pushups.

No, this was not a Marine Corps boot camp but the new Taekwondo class taught at Esperanza Health Center in Hunting Park.

Esperanza, a Christian nonprofit health care provider, cares for around 15,000 patients in North Philadelphia. Last month, instructors Tony Gonzalez and Christie Lee started the facility’s first children’s program. The martial arts class is designed to teach discipline and fitness to local children ages seven to 14. Students pay $40 for three months of classes, including a uniform.

With offices in Hunting Park, Kensington and on 5th Street in Fairhill, Esperanza has treated the North Philadelphia community for more than 25 years. But it is not just a treatment facility; its fitness programs are focused on preventative health care. The Taekwondo class is part of Esperanza’s Community Health and Wellness Department, which brings health education to the area, Gonzalez said.

Lee said Esperanza offers classes in Zumba, cardio kickboxing and total body conditioning, in addition to a small fitness center.

Gonzalez said Esperanza’s programs are not only for promoting fitness and health but faith as well. Each morning at Esperanza starts with a devotional time, where workers lead worship and share testimonies.

“It feels like we’re at church while we’re working,” Gonzalez said. “It’s really cool.”

The health provider has plans to introduce senior programs in the future and Lee said the success of the Taekwondo class means Esperanza will plan more health programs for children.

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– Text and images by Joseph Gilbride and Grace Nonnemaker.