Sarai Westbrook Flood City Youth Fitness Academy opening

Sarai Westbrook, 10, of Blairsville, works on a laptop computer at Flood City Youth Fitness Academy, which opened its virtual learning center downtown on Tuesday, Dec, 1, 2020.

Local students having trouble with pandemic-driven changes in education have a new resource.

Flood City Youth Fitness Academy’s virtual learning center features 60 workstations and volunteer tutors to help students in kindergarten through high school navigate online learning and complete homework assignments.

The center was developed with donations and volunteer efforts from a cross-section of the community, organizer Jack Babich said Tuesday during ribbon-cutting ceremonies at the academy inside Fitness Weights & Aerobics, 200 Lincoln St.

“What you are going to see today is whole lot of community stewardship coming together and making this all possible,” Babich said. “It truly is a first-class learning center.”

Babich is a senior vice president at AmeriServ Financial and president of E.MAP: Employers Medical Access Partnership.

AmeriServ and E.MAP donated $7,500 to launch the project that eventually brought $26,570 from 41 donors. Then computers were donated by Wessel & Company, St. Francis University and AmeriServ. Avail Business Systems Inc. provided furnishings and storage bins.

Babich said the center was developed in response to the COVID-19 disruptions, but can continue to help students and expand to adult learning when the situation changes.

The philanthropic effort was managed through Community Foundation for the Alleghenies. Those wishing to support the program may contribute by visiting

Oscar Z. Cashaw Sr. is executive director of the academy and owner of Fitness Weights & Aerobics. He said the academy has always been a vital partner with the business.

Although its primary mission has been helping the community become healthy, FWA has a focus on youth, he said.

“We don’t want to call ourselves a gym,” Cashaw said. “This is a community center. We have enough here to offer everyone an opportunity to engage.”

In the past, the academy has provided after-school programs and summer programs.

The new center is already showing its value for students participating, said Deacon Jeffrey L. Wilson, academy program director. Several students have seen improvements on their report cards, including one student who boasted straight A’s in the last grading period.

“We know that what is going on here is working,” Wilson said.

Randy Griffith is a multimedia reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. He can be reached at 532-5057. Follow him on Twitter @PhotoGriffer57.

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