© Geoff Bolte

HARLEM, N.Y., Sept. 16, 2013 – More than 300 children from throughout the New York metro area had the opportunity to learn gymnastics basics through the USA Gymnastics Fitness Zone and experience the power and benefits of sport and play at the Right To Play Gymnastics Festival in Harlem, the official launch of the partnership of USA Gymnastics and Right To Play. 2012 Olympic all-around champion Gabrielle Douglas, 2008 Olympic horizontal bar silver-medalist Jonathan Horton and 2008 Olympic team silver-medalist Alicia Sacramone, along with legendary coach Bela Karolyi, were on hand to mingle with the children, sign autographs and participate in the official program. Held at the Harlem Armory, the festival also included gymnastics demonstrations and was a fundraiser for Right To Play.

"Wow – what a launch!" said Steve Penny, president of USA Gymnastics. "Our combined efforts resulted in one of the best outreach events ever for USA Gymnastics. The message of this partnership has so much potential to make a difference in the lives of kids throughout America. I am convinced we will inspire many young people as USA Gymnastics and Right to Play move forward together."

"Today’s event launches a partnership that will engage thousands of kids in gymnastics programming in the U.S. and many more abroad," said Johann Olav Koss, a four-time Olympic gold-medalist speedskater, as well as founder and CEO of Right To Play. "Play is an essential tool for childhood development, and we couldn’t be happier to work with USA Gymnastics in this important endeavor."

USA Gymnastics and Right To Play, a global organization that uses sport and play programs to educate and empower children facing adversity, announced the partnership earlier this year. Douglas, Sacramone and Horton are serving as athlete ambassadors for Right to Play and co-chairs of National Gymnastics Day on September 21. Through special events, National Gymnastics Day, the Athlete Ambassador program and community outreach, the two organization’s mutual goal is to provide opportunities to children who would normally not have the chance to experience both gymnastics and the power of participating in sports. For National Gymnastics Day on Sept.21, 2013, Right To Play and USA Gymnastics have awarded 26 grants to USA Gymnastics member clubs to support the innovative programs and initiatives they have created to increase gymnastics’ exposure and accessibility to children from disadvantaged or lower-income families.

Right To Play is a global organization that uses organized sport and play to educate and empower children facing adversity. It was founded in 2000 by Koss, a social entrepreneur and the 2013 recipient of the Henry R. Kravis Prize for Leadership. Right To Play’s organizing premise — that play-based learning can act as a powerful tool for a child’s social and cognitive development — has shown measurable results in 20 countries on four continents. Right To Play serves more than one million children every week in regular activities that promote health, conflict resolution, basic life skills, education, self-esteem, dignity and respect. These are children who have lost family members, have disabilities, are affected by HIV and AIDS, live on the streets and in refugee camps, and are former child combatants. Right To Play is supported by an international network of more than 300 professional and Olympic athletes from more than 40 countries. For more information, visit www.righttoplayusa.org.