Rich Mergo, director of development at the Sunshine Foundation's Dream Village in Loughman, says the Zumba classes are a great help in their fund-raising efforts. (Photo by Michael Freeman).
LOUGHMAN – Fitness classes, which can draw in big crowds of people looking to get in shape or improve their health, usually don’t have much to do with charitable organizations.
But a series of Zumba fitness classes being held once a month on Sundays is serving just that purpose: not only for physical fitness, but also as a way to assist a charitable organization in Loughman that helps children who are chronically ill or abused.
The Sunshine Foundation’s All Volunteer Central Florida Chapter has joined forces with Beyond Fitnezz, a studio in Davenport that’s hosting an ongoing series of Zumba fitness classes from 2-3 p.m. on the third Sunday of every month.
The cost of this class is $5, and the proceeds from exercising the Zumba way will go to the Sunshine Foundation’s Dream Village in Loughman. The classes are held at the Beyond Fitnezz studio at Ridgeview Plaza in Davenport.
“It’s ongoing,” said Marcus Santiago, vice president and chapter organizer for the All Volunteer Central Florida Chapter. He added that they wanted to find a way to help this charitable group raise the funds needed to fulfill its mission.
“The Sunshine Foundation is a non-profit organization located in Loughman,” Santiago said. “What they do is they assist ill kids, kids who are very sick, and most of them don’t have a cure.”
The children come from around the country to Central Florida to the Dream Village, which has a series of cottages that families can stay in during their visit here. The children and their families are treated to trips to the local theme parks.
“The Sunshine Foundation will actually pay for everything,” Santiago said. “They stay for free. We try to pay for everything while they’re here so they can have a great time.”
Paying for these stays and vacations isn’t inexpensive, and the All Volunteer Chapter wanted to generate ways to help the Dream Village get the funds needed to keep operating. That’s when the fitness studio in Davenport offered to help.
“Beyond Fitnezz are the ones who actually want to help raise funds for the Sunshine Foundation,” Santiago said. “Every third Sunday, we do a Zumba class and all funds are for the Sunshine Foundation.”
Zumba is a Latin-inspired fitness program created by dancer and choreographer Beto in Colombia in the 1990s. Zumba is a mix of Latin and International music, and really took off after businessman Alberto Perlman marketed it. Today, there are believed to be more than 90,000 Zumba fitness center locations in 110 countries.
It’s grown in popularity locally as well.
“I think that Zumba came to stay, just like yoga,” said Ligia Westwood, who runs Beyond Fitnezz. “It helps you in your health, in your cardio, and it helps you lose weight and decrease your stress level. It also helps you to lower your cholesterol.”
“It’s been open for about three months, and we’re doing pretty well,” Santiago said of the Zumba classes. “When people find out we have a class on Sunday and the money goes to the Sunshine Foundation, they say ‘Oh, that’s great, I want to help.’ Our hope is to be able to do this for as long as we can.”
This help is very much appreciated, said Rich Mergo, director of development at Dream Village.
“The cost to get in is 100 percent donated to the Sunshine Foundation,” he said. “We have 15 volunteer chapters around the United States, and now we have one here in Central Florida, and they are raising some funds and raising awareness for us, and answering more dreams. We truly appreciate any support the community can give to us, to let people know about the Sunshine Foundation and the work we do here.”
Westwood said she noticed some fitness studios in the Orlando area were doing similar fund-raisers, so she decided to do the same for Dream Village.
“In Orlando, they are doing this for the community as well,” she said. “I like to help with the community.”
But she also has a special connection to the Make A Wish Foundation, which Mergo has worked with.
“My son, three years ago, he had brain cancer, and right now he is in remission,” she said. “But Make A Wish Foundation granted a dream for him. So we know Rich from them, and that’s how we got involved in this.”
In addition to the fitness classes, the Dream Village has another major event coming up this month. On Friday, Oct. 28, the Sunshine Foundation is hosting a Masquerade Ball in the Grand Ballroom of the Reunion Resort.
“This is our major event,” Mergo said. “It’s kind of an opera theme, and we have the Davenport School of the Arts students and other children there helping us out with performances. It will be a really great night, with entertainment and food and auction items. It’s a formal event, with a silent auction. It will be really nice this year. This is our second event at Reunion, and we have some amazing auction items and support from local companies like Disney, Universal Studios and Tijuana Flats, and also the local smaller businesses attending as well.”
The Sunshine Foundation is a 34-year-old national children’s organization started in Philadelphia by a former Philadelphia police officer, whose mission is to answer the dreams of children who are chronically ill, physically challenged or abused. To learn more, visit the website at or call 863-424-4188.
To learn more about the Sunday Zumba classes, call Westwood at 863-353-1538.

Contact us at


  1. Wow !!! Zumba With Jenine in Clermont fl is now teaching at Beyond fitnezz her class days and times are Tuesdays at 7:15pm and Thursdays at 7:15 PM she is also teaching zumba Gold ( for seniors ) at tuesday at 10:15pm

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *