You are here

Double Duty: DPH Employees Serve as Fitness Instructors

December 13, 2013

Every Monday, Kimberly Stringer gets to work before 7 a.m. The early arrival isn’t to take care of her duties as deputy director of government relations at the Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH). She’s here for boot camp.

Kimberly Stringer is one of 18 DPH employees who double as fitness instructors at the Capitol Hill Fitness Center.

“Having a morning class makes sure I still get my workouts in during the week, even during busy times,” she said.

Stringer teaches two fitness classes each week at DPH: the Monday boot camp class and a body flex class on Thursdays. She’s one of a handful of DPH employees who, at least once per week, trade dress shoes and computer keyboards for sneakers and sweat bands to lead their colleagues in fitness classes.

Currently 18 DPH employees volunteer to lead nearly 25 weekly fitness classes, offered daily in the Capitol Hill Fitness Center. These volunteers are Worksite Wellness Coordinator Susanne Koch’s secret weapons.

“I am a one-woman show,” Koch said. “If it were not for them, many of the events, and certainly a group exercise schedule, would not be possible.”

Many organizations offer fitness classes for employees as a part of their worksite wellness programs, but Koch said most of the time, these programs hire outside fitness instructors on a contract basis. And that can be costly. A typical fitness contractor charges attendees between $80 and $120 per class.

Instead of paying a pricey contract -- a cost that would be passed on to members of the Capitol Hill Fitness Center -- Koch decided to tap into the talent and energy already at DPH. Early this year, she began recruiting volunteers to lead fitness classes for their fellow employees.

“There have been a lot of employees who have an interest in being healthier, but not very many people are brave enough to teach others. Fortunately we have found some really great employees who are eager to learn, and really are excellent instructors,” she said.

L'laina Rash leads her weekly hip-hop dance class.

L’laina Rash, who manages DPH’s internship program, has been a dancer since she was a child, but had never led others through the moves. Now she teaches a weekly hip-hop dance class at DPH. She’s even slated to appear in a dance fitness video next year, produced by Shazzy Fitness.

Rash said she initially volunteered to teach because it gave her a chance to make movement a regular part of her workday. But she also feels that volunteering to maintain a robust worksite wellness program is an important part of DPH’s mission.

“As public health professionals, you have to practice what you preach,” Rash said. “If we’re talking about healthy behaviors and lifestyles to the community, but we don’t model that behavior, we’re not credible.”

Before Rash and the other instructors began teaching, they had to be trained and certified by the Aerobics and Fitness Association of America, ensuring they knew the safest ways to lead group exercise. They also have to make sure that teaching won’t interfere with their regular work. Many of the instructors say DPH’s policy allowing a 30-minute break for physical activity during the workday allows them to volunteer and still meet their job responsibilities.

Stringer makes use of the policy when she teaches her body flex class on Thursdays before lunch. She said teaching the classes gives her an easy way to keep up her own fitness routine, which is essential since she is training for an Ironman Triathlon next year. But her classes also give her the opportunity to do something good for her peers.

“I just like seeing other people reach their fitness goals and improve. The people in my fitness classes are already increasing their strength,” she said. “It’s a really cool thing to help your colleagues in that way.”

Christy Kuriatnyk has been leading her fellow employees in Zumba for seven years.

Christy Kuriatnyk, director of DPH’s Lead and Healthy Homes program, began leading her colleagues in Zumba about seven years ago, when she opened her own lunchtime fitness routine to a group of her colleagues at the West Central Health District. She said the fun, fast-paced music and dance moves in Zumba routines appeal to many people who might shy away from other fitness classes.

“There are many employees here that struggle with physical fitness. I believe that if I can show them how exciting Zumba is, they may use it to continue toward their fitness goals,” she said.

Kuriatnyk said she does most of her planning and choreographing for her classes outside of work, since “naturally, my first priority is always my job.” But she also appreciates that DPH’s leadership, particularly Commissioner Brenda Fitzgerald, M.D., has prioritized the health of employees by supporting worksite wellness through measures like the 30-minute physical activity policy.

“That speaks volumes about her concern and commitment to DPH employees,” she said. “I know that my class participants appreciate the opportunity to exercise and learn about how to live a healthy lifestyle at their workplace. They otherwise may not have an opportunity outside of DPH.”