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With Free Memberships, Health Clubs Cater to the Unemployed

Health clubs cater to the unemployed with free memberships.

G Omaryrob0309 With the unemployment rate in New Jersey pushing past 7 percent, the owners of Gold's Gym in Green Brook decided to kick off 2009 with their own "Healthcare Stimulus Package." Throughout January, area residents who had recently lost their jobs were invited to sign up for a free month-long membership valued at $69 (plus two complimentary training-orientation sessions), entitling them to use of the entire facility and all classes every weekday between 8 a.m. and 3 p.m.

In February, owners Rob and Mary Zampetti became more generous, allowing all unemployed club members to work out for free, anytime. "We constantly hear tales of woe," Rob Zampetti says. "People are scared to spend money and something's got to give. Are they going to pay their electric bill or their gym bill? We can't kick somebody when they're down. But when they get another job, we hope they'll continue their membership."

It's the husband-and-wife team's way of helping people in the community - which includes former employees at failed investment firms Lehman Brothers and Bear Stearns - understand how the benefits of exercise can help carry them through tough times. "When you finish working out, there's no other time of the day when you feel as good," Zampetti says. "The endorphins are flowing and the stress is gone. If you're not working out - if you're just sitting at home, stressing out and eating garbage - it's hard to get motivated to go look for a job. But when you're feeling good about yourself, the confidence is there."

The Zampettis have pitched the free-membership idea to Gold's Gym headquarters in the hopes that colleagues in other locations will follow their lead. But even if they don't, a trend of sorts seems to be developing. The Montana Athletic Club in Bigfork, Mont., recently began offering up to four free months to members who have lost their jobs since December and two free months to nonmembers. And the New York Sports Club on Wall Street teamed up with a local employee recruitment firm in late January to host a "Career Workout Day" consisting of workshops about career strategies, résumé updating and interviewing skills. Participants also were invited to a free workout with NYSC personal trainers.

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