Reaching Out to Your Community

Providing excellent service is the hallmark of a successful wellness center or health club. If your center's service mission includes building a healthier community, you may want to consider providing wellness programs throughout your neighborhood, as well as in your facility. In most communities, there are many opportunities to reach out beyond your facility's walls.

The staff members of the Hamot Wellness Center regularly participate in health fairs, corporate wellness programs and wellness presentations, and serve on community boards and in professional organizations. In addition, the Wellness Center is involved in several innovative wellness initiatives that are effective and well-supported by our community.

* In partnership with our local ABC affiliate (WJET-TV), we co-sponsor a 30-minute weekly children's health and fitness program, Clubhouse 24. The show, which is funded by Hamot Medical Center and several local businesses, features segments on fitness, health, nutrition and safety, and promotes healthy lifestyles, positive self-esteem and pro-social behavior. Exposure from Clubhouse 24 has helped the Wellness Center earn a reputation as an authority on health and fitness issues for both adults and children.

* The Wellness Center created a health and fitness video series featuring members of our staff and the community. We used an in-house production team to minimize cost. We targeted specific populations for our videos, including children, older adults, beginner exercisers and chair-bound individuals. Five videos were produced: Wellness Workout, Family Fitness, Fit 'n' Easy, Sit and Get Fit, and Kids Get Fit at the Zoo. In addition to selling the videos, we donated copies to area schools, community centers, video stores (to be placed on the free access racks), local bookstores, community access television stations, physician offices and hospital departments for outpatient education.

* The center provides free, preprinted exercise prescription pads to area physicians to facilitate referrals to our facility, thus encouraging exercise as part of the patient's care plan. Each patient referred receives a free short-term membership, which includes access to certified and degreed fitness specialists, a registered dietitian and licensed physical therapists. Follow-up progress reports are provided to the referring physicians. In addition to generating new members, this program helps get people on the road to better health, provides a valuable service to physicians and creates an ongoing referral base.

* For the past four years, I have au-thored a weekly, holistic health and fitness column, "Fit for Life," in our local newspaper. I have found this to be an excellent method of spreading the wellness and fitness message to a wide and diverse audience.

* "Project B-Fit" is a unique youth mentoring program that combines physical exercise, nutrition education and self-esteem building activities to encourage young people to develop healthy lifestyles. As part of this program, older youths are trained as facilitators and mentors to spread the wellness message by conducting fun and informative activities with their younger counterparts in area elementary schools. Our program was funded by grassroots activities in schools, community partnerships and grants. Recently, we re-ceived a sizable federal grant to support our program's expansion.

When planning community activities, remember that we are better together. Do not be afraid to think outside the box, to build bridges and develop partnerships in your community. In reality, you will be creating community health improvement processes, not just community programs. By doing so, you become an agent of change, a catalyst for building roads to a healthier community for others to follow.

- Kathy Iorio is the director of Hamot Wellness Center in Erie, Pa., and the winner of Club Industry's 1999 Industry Enhancement Award. She is also a favorite on the regional speaking circuit.


Americans: We Are An Unhealthy Nation

NEW YORK - In addition to smoking and illegal drug use, Americans see obesity and poor diets as serious health problems in the United States, according to a new Harris poll.

Conducting a telephone poll of more than 1,000 U.S. adults, Harris researchers found that most Americans believe that the nation's wellness is on the decline. According to the pollsters, 52 percent of the people reported that illegal drug use is on the rise and harming the health of Americans. Furthermore, 51 percent cited the number of overweight people as a growing health problem.

As far as exercise goes, Americans are divided. The survey reported that 29 percent believe that the number of inactive Americans is a problem that is getting worse, 25 percent believe that the problem is getting better, and 43 percent believe that there has been no change in the issue.


Partners Invest $10.5 Million in a Wellness Center

CHICAGO HEIGHTS, Ill. - St. James Hospital and Health Centers, Prairie State College and the Chicago Heights Park District have formed a partnership to build what is reportedly the first medically based fitness complex for Chicago Heights, a suburban community south of Chicago. The 64,000-square-foot facility will cost $10.5 million.

The grand opening for the facility is scheduled for the summer. The new complex will house the St. James Health and Wellness Institute, which is a fitness center with dedicated space for physical, cardiac and orthopedic rehabilitation. In addition, the complex will include a fieldhouse and an aquatics center.