"I don’t believe your circumstances define you," said Choice Fitness General Manager Dave Mansfield, who works with a number of charitable
"I don't believe your circumstances define you," said Choice Fitness General Manager Dave Mansfield, who works with a number of charitable groups. SUN / JOHN LOVE

Part of The Sun's "Be a Volunteer" series, focusing on people who join community nonprofits.

CHELMSFORD -- Dave Mansfield's tough exterior belies the heart of gold underneath.

Take a first glance at the general manager of Choice Fitness in Chelmsford center, and you'll see his tattoos and muscular physique. Talk to him, and you'll realize he's a generous member of the community who gets involved in just about any way that he can provide help.

"People don't give because they have extra, people give because they know what it's like not to have," said Mansfield, of Hudson, New Hampshire. "I grew up in not the best of situations, but I went to college, graduated. I don't believe your circumstances define you. You make your own way. When you grow up like that, you want to help others and see others who are struggling feel better and succeed."

Sometimes the simplest gestures can make all the difference, he said.

Mansfield, originally of Billerica, is a master Freemason active in his hometown's Thomas Talbot Masonic Lodge and its local chapter of the Widow's Sons Motorcycle Riders Association.

In a given year, Mansfield will support as many as 40 events for a wide variety of charities that help the homeless, the hungry, veterans and the sick. When he's not working these events himself, the handy woodworker will create rustic wooden tables to be raffled or auctioned off.

Seven years ago, Mansfield lost his cousin, Jake Murnane, of Billerica, to suicide.


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Since then, he and his family have been active with the Boston chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Every year, they hold a Halloween costume ball in Murnane's memory in Billerica to raise money for the organization. In the spring, he'll run his first Boston Marathon for the organization and hopes to raise $25,000.

Mansfield said he's grateful his employer allows him to use the gym as a donation base for so many of the local organizations he supports, and for the gym members who support his efforts.

Choice Fitness General Manager Dave Mansfield helps out Friday as Valerie Busby of Chelmsford, a member of the club, donates for Mansfield’s food
Choice Fitness General Manager Dave Mansfield helps out Friday as Valerie Busby of Chelmsford, a member of the club, donates for Mansfield's food drive. SUN / JOHN LOVE

On Wednesday, he began a bunch of different donation drives at the gym: food for the Merrimack Valley Food Bank; coats, hats, gloves, scarves and socks for homeless families at House of Hope; and sleeping bags for the homeless at the Community Table.

But the biggest drive Mansfield holds each year is for toys that will make Christmas brighter for local children in need. The toys are split between House of Hope and Somebody Cares.

Three years ago when Robert Ollivierra, of Nashua, became involved with Somebody Cares at Community Christian Church in Lowell, he wasn't sure how they were going to provide toys to the approximately 125 kids being served that year.

Ollivierra asked Mansfield what he should do -- and was taken aback by his immediate offer to set up a donation drive at the gym.

It became an annual tradition, and last year was the best year yet, Ollivierra said, because they were able to provide three toys to each child.

This year, they're taking on another task. Mansfield and Ollivierra are working with police in Chelmsford, Lowell and Billerica to identify a family in each community that they can give "a Christmas miracle," Ollivierra said.

For each of these families, they will provide toys and food, help them pay utility bills and clean their homes, they said.

When Ollivierra came to Mansfield to ask him for this, he again immediately agreed started organizing, he said.

"It's so good to see that one person has a heart to touch so many people," Ollivierra said. "He does so much."

Mansfield is so known for his penchant to help others that many seek him out for low-key, behind-the-scenes assistance for families in need, whether it's a gift card for Market Basket or a local gas station, or asking members of his motorcycle group to pass around a hat for donations to help someone get their car fixed. When Mansfield sees someone in need, he can't resist -- he'll often reach out and offer help.

To donate to any of Mansfield's efforts, email him at dave@mychoicefitness.com or visit Choice Fitness at 18 Boston Road.

Follow Alana Melanson at facebook.com/alana.lowellsun or on Twitter @alanamelanson.