During a game of catch at recess one day a decade ago, Chris Russell tossed a ball to 10-year-old Tommy.
"He just let it whiz on by," recalls Russell, a therapeutic trainer.
The lack of reaction by Tommy, a boy with special needs, gave Russell a flash of insight.
Sure, such special-needs kids could use his help in developing cognitive skills.
But their bodies also cry out for the coordination and muscular strength required to do basic activities like bathing and using the toilet — and playing.
"These kids needed a place to go where they could get better," Russell says.
The Fitness 4 Focus idea was born. The gym began in a church in Hummelstown five years ago.
A second gym opens Saturday at 5941 Main St., East Petersburg. An open house from noon to 4 p.m. will introduce the staff to the community and include crafts for kids.
Regular sessions begin Monday, April 6.
Most of the clients will be families of children with autism, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorders or Down syndrome.
The 600-square-foot space leased from the adjoining Gochnauer's Home Appliance Center previously housed a satellite TV business.
Sid Gochnauer, president of the store his dad built over 60 years ago, says the new gym site sat vacant several months because he turned down several prospective tenants.
"I'm pretty fussy about who I put in there," Gochnauer says. "This just seems like a good fit... The whole concept, I really like. There's a real need for (Russell's) type of services.
"I'm just going to model what we've been doing in Hummelstown," where he moved the operation from the church to space he sublets at Tim's Personal Training, 11 E. Main St.
If Fitness 4 Focus is successful in East Petersburg, Russell will likely add a third gym somewhere in Harrisburg's West Shore suburbs next January.
He says the Hummelstown site, which has an open house April 11, began with three clients. It now serves 43, thanks to word-of-mouth buzz and publicity from a television-news feature.
"There's a lot of interest" in the new gym, Russell says.
He adds that he expects within a year or two to generate at least $100,000 at East Petersburg, where he's blessed by high traffic flow right outside the storefront windows.
He and trainer Shawn Brown use colorful balls, dumbbells and cones during personalized half-hour workouts for his clients, who include a few adults.
"I don't use any machines with cables," Russell says.
Often, "we've got to start from scratch" and show a client how to straighten his back or arms before he can lift a weight.
"A lot more than personal training" pertains, adds Russell, who says his special needs clientele is particularly sensitive emotionally. He's gone so far as to text a reassuring photo of a child's kenneled dogs while his family traveled.
Most of the clients at Fitness 4 Focus are school-age children, though Russell works with clients of any age. His oldest client is a woman in her late 40s.
Workouts are $29 to $40, or $150 a month for four sessions. The fee per visit drops as people schedule them more often.
"We're definitely looking for individuals interested in helping families to be able to do this" through grants or donations, Russell says.
Also at the new East Petersburg gym, which opens in the afternoons, Russell will sublet space to personal trainer Stephanie Fleck, who will run fitness classes for women in the morning and evening.
Russell, 35, lives in Maytown with his wife, Ashley, and daughters Amelia, 2, and Caroline, 8 months.
Russell says he owns and finances his Fitness 4 Focus operations, which were inspired by his faith mission. There are no investors yet.
"Not too many" are doing what he does, Russell notes.
Meanwhile, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said last year the prevalence of autism in the United States has soared to 1 in 68 children.
"I hear everybody say 'You need to franchise this,'" Russell says. "That's in the back of my mind. I'd like to do that some day," perhaps starting in Philadelphia and expanding north to Boston, where he earned a 2003 Eastern Nazarene College degree in movement arts.
The entrepreneur already has traveled far to reach this point.
Born in Kansas, Russell moved with his family to Hershey at 5 and "grew up a pastor's kid." When he was 12, he lost his brother in a car accident.
"I floundered around. I had to dig. I had faith issues," Russell says. After college, "I built paver patios for a while. That was fun" but he felt it wasn't his destiny.
What Russell calls his "kiddos" are.
Russell had plenty of experience working with “kiddos” prior to launching Fitness 4 Focus. He spent six years doing that as a therapeutic staff support (TSS) in central Pennsylvania.
Twelve-year-old Bryan Desmond is one of Russell’s current “kiddos.”
Patty Desmond says she's thrilled by the changes she's seen in her boy since she began taking him to the Hummelstown Fitness 4 Focus last fall.
Though he is legally blind and suffers from autism and other medical challenges, his mother says, he has been jumping up on blocks, a new accomplishment.
"It has increased his focus," Desmond says. "He is also much more flexible. He can twist in ways he was never able to before.
"This is the first program that actually meets my son's needs," she says, adding that Russell and his staff are beloved by his clients.
"I see him going all over the place" with these services, says Desmond. "The need is there."