YMCA, schools partner for fitness

Published 9:26 pm Thursday, March 7, 2019

In the middle of a workout session for bus drivers in the King’s Fork High School auditorium Thursday, the bus drivers got serenaded by the school’s orchestra as it practiced for an upcoming event.

It’s just one way the Suffolk Family YMCA and Suffolk Public Schools have adapted to a program that brings YMCA personal trainers into the schools twice per week to work with bus drivers and school staff.

It’s a partnership that began in spring 2018 with the bus drivers, and it has evolved to include seven schools this spring, with plans to bring the fitness program into more schools in the coming years. The six others are all elementary schools — Kilby Shores, Elephant’s Fork, Mack Benn Jr., Booker T. Washington, Hillpoint and Creekside. The bus drivers meet from 11 a.m. to noon and then receive lunch at King’s Fork. Elementary staff members meet for their workouts after school, and they take place wherever there’s space at the school.

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“The personal trainers meet them right where they are,” said Wendy Forsman, the school division’s executive director of finance. “They’re not asking them to do Ironman stuff. … It’s been really popular with our staff.”

Katie Burgus, Suffolk Family YMCA district vice president and director of association aquatics, said the personal trainers will do such things as plyometrics, calisthenics, resistance bands, walking and Zumba.

The trainers make the program work, according to Suffolk Family YMCA Health and Wellness Director Kelci Novak.

“The trainers can adjust to different levels of fitness,” Novak said. “They’re very adaptive to each person.”

Bus driver Mary Chandler, 50, has been involved from the beginning. She admitted to not having worked out in many years but said the program eased her mind about it.

“I didn’t want to try anything new, but I pushed myself, and I’m glad I did,” Chandler said. “It’s helped with my stress levels. Dealing with children, it gets stressful at times, so you learn how to calm yourself down and handle the situation at hand. It’s been a blessing.”

She said she feels better physically and emotionally, and her eating habits have improved.

“I really love the program,” Chandler said. “I have lost weight, gained some muscle, so I see myself looking better health-wise, physically-wise, emotionally. I hope the program continues, because it’s been good for me.”

Another bus driver, Sandra Quiroga, 60, said she has lost an inch in her arms, waist and thighs.

“I look forward to this because we’re all together, and I like exercising, it’s wonderful,” Quiroga said. “I love what the YMCA did, I like the traveling YMCA coming to the school for us.”

Burgus said that from September to December 2018, the 90 participants lost a combined 125 pounds as well as 99 inches in the waist, 77.4 inches in the thighs and 36 inches in the arms.

This spring, Burgus said about 125 people are participating among the seven schools.

As part of Suffolk Public Schools’ wellness program, participants cannot miss more than two sessions in the 12-week program, which runs in the fall and in the spring, to earn 50 points, Forsman said. Getting to 200 points by May means an extra pre-tax $200, each, in their paychecks. There are other small gifts given out for meeting other challenges throughout the year.

Anne McCoy, a physical education teacher at Oakland Elementary, is the program’s wellness ambassador.

Besides taking part in the YMCA’s personal training program, Forsman said participants in the school division’s wellness program can earn points through a biometrics screening, a smoking cessation program, performing a self-health assessment and going through the Smart Dollar personal budgeting program.

Chandler and the other bus drivers have forged a camaraderie among a group that can tend to be isolated among its peers while making double and even triple runs and spending up to eight hours per day in the driver’s seat.

“We have lunch together sometimes, we do a girls’ night out,” Chandler said. “It’s a break from the work detail.”

Personal trainer Jessica Hamblin says that the camaraderie among the participants is evident in the workouts.

“I believe the program brings the bus drivers and the teachers as a unit,” Hamblin said. “They’re all really supportive of one another.”

Quiroga said she appreciates what Hamblin does to make the workouts fun, and tailor them to each individual. She encourages her fellow drivers to participate in the program.

“It’s a nice stress reliever, and it just pumps up your oxygen,” Quiroga said. “It makes you feel good.”

Hamblin said she loves to see the results and smiles on everyone’s faces, and she feels pride when people can do something they hadn’t done before. She also has made friends through the program, and it allows her to get out and tell people that being healthy is a good thing. She, like the YMCA staff and Suffolk Public Schools, hopes the partnership continues and expands.

“I truly believe in this program,” Hamblin said. “The teachers and the drivers believe in the program. It’s just, how big are we going to take it? That’s the question. How far is this going to go? I think it’s the teachers and the bus drivers. I think as long as they keep believing, it’s going to work.”