Kimberly Stringer is one of 18 DPH employees who double as fitness instructors at the Capitol Hill Fitness Center.
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.
Kimberly 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.
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.
“Having a morning class makes sure I still get my workouts in during the week, even during busy times,” she said.
“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.”
James E. Donald
Although he hung up his uniform nearly a decade ago, Maj. Gen. (Ret.) James E. Donald never stopped serving our country. He no longer wears his combat boots or dog tags, but he continues to serve as a leading voice to lift our service members and military families up, improve our communities and build better futures for our veteran warriors.
At first glance, General Donald, a native of Jackson, Miss., has an extensive leadership background and an inspiring number of achievements. With a military career of more than 33 years, he served as Task Force Commander for the 101st Airborne “Screaming Eagles” during the Gulf War; Deputy Commanding General for the U.S. Army, Pacific; and Deputy Chief of Staff, G1 until his retirement in 2003.
Upon retirement, Governor Sonny Perdue appointed General Donald as Commissioner of the Georgia Department of Corrections, and later to a seven-year term on the Georgia State Board of Pardons and Paroles which included two terms as Chairman, where he continues to serve today. He also serves as President of the Georgia Chapter of the Association of the United States Army (AUSA) and on the Georgia Military Affairs Coordinating Committee (GMACC), which represents all services of the military.
Approachable, humble, and upbeat, General Donald appeared to forget all about his laundry list of achievements as he sat down for an interview to provide insight on his advocacy work for veterans. His focus is now on what he refers to as “the next great battle” – that of not leaving fellow comrades behind.
As President of AUSA, General Donald explained that the purpose of the Association is to provide a voice for Soldiers, Veterans and family members, and to serve as a portal that connects veterans to civilian services and opportunities. He confirms that the next big battle we face as a nation is to ensure that our veterans have access to available support services that aid in their successful re-entry into the community, and has personally committed to the fight of leaving no veteran behind.
“No programs are more important to us than attacking and eliminating the obstacles that confront our returning Veterans,” said General Donald.
James Donald explains the re-entry model for Georgia’s veterans.
Over the next couple years, more than 60,000 Georgia veterans are expected to return home, and despite all they have accomplished, there are many challenges and evolving threats looming on the horizon against them. These threats include high suicide and unemployment rates, silent wounds from Post-Traumatic Stress Injuries (PTSD) and Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI), and homelessness. General Donald travels the state to raise awareness of the myriad of issues faced by our veterans, reduce the stigma of PTSD and address employment issues.
“You’re thrust back into the community and you have to deal with a totally different culture,” said General Donald of veterans transitioning back into civilian society. “But the military experience is unique. One of the great challenges we have is interpreting the skills, training and education of Soldiers so that civilian employers can identify those not-so-obvious qualifications and understand the true value of these men and women.”
The top issues for veterans today are to find jobs and housing. “We have learned that there are two important factors to transitioning people; meaningful jobs and a suitable place to stay,” he said.
To address these concerns, General Donald and AUSA are collaborating with public and private organizations that provide services, professional opportunities and public support of veterans, to advocate for his military re-entry model, which is a strategic plan to transition soldiers successfully back into the community with a certificate of completion. His mission is to create an accessible network of existing veteran organizations that provide voluntary mentorship to veterans, including career profiles, coaching on different areas of life, and health assessments.
“One of the things we have to do is help them [veterans] avoid falling through the crack,” said General Donald. “We want to make sure that we have somebody, representatives in these various organizations, to take them under their mentorship. There are all types of organizations out there designed to help veterans, but a lot of times they do not know where to go.”
As an advocate, General Donald supports Governor Nathan Deal and state legislators’ efforts to find funding and pass laws to assist veterans and their families. Two recent examples include passage of the Military Child Education Compact Bill and HB 188, which are designed to address unique challenges faced by military children attending Georgia schools and to fast track job opportunities for veterans in fields that were previously encumbered by state licensing requirements. His efforts also include forming partnerships with state agencies and local businesses to host job fairs for veterans in various cities throughout the state, and to champion new education initiatives and vocational rehabilitation programs specifically for veterans.
General Donald’s extensive advocacy work and fierce dedication to support veterans is no mere accident. “Every chance I get, I am going to be an advocate for the veterans,” General Donald said. “I spent 33-and-a-half years in the Army. You just can’t walk away from that career without having an emotional attachment to those same men and women.”
Through his work on behalf of AUSA and GMACC, General Donald is able to personally maintain his involvement in the military by promoting the well-being and opportunities for veterans and by simply letting them know that people really care about them. “The most gratifying part of my job is to be able to be close with the soldiers,” General Donald said, paraphrasing Shakespeare’s Henry V; “For ‘he’ today that sheds blood with me shall be my brother…!”
We are featuring Diane Clark this month, who recently celebrated her retirement from the Employees’ Retirement System of Georgia after 34 years of dedicated service to the state and to ERS.
Congratulations and farewell to Diane and all of Team Georgia’s newest retirees!
October 2013 Retirees
Are you, or is someone you know, retiring soon? Send us a horizontal photo to feature here on this website!