Perspectives Online

At a kickoff physical activity session, employees of the Wayne Action Group for Economic Solvency take the first steps toward fitness goals.
Photo by Daniel Kim

On a warm September afternoon in Wayne County, employees of WAGES - Wayne Action Group for Economic Solvency - celebrated a day away from office by walking the track of a nearby school, playing volleyball or basketball and participating in an aerobics class. This was the kickoff of WAGES Gets Fit, a workplace wellness program

developed with the help of Christine Smith, family and consumer sciences agent with North Carolina Cooperative Extension in Wayne County.

Employees who registered to participate in the first quarterly wellness program set their own goals for lifestyle changes. They were asked to choose at least one goal for improving physical activity, healthy eating or work/life balance, though some chose more than one goal.

At a kickoff physical activity session, employees of the Wayne Action Group for Economic Solvency take the first steps toward fitness goals.
Employees of the Wayne Action Group for Economic Solvency
Photos credit Daniel Kim
At the kickoff, WAGES employee Jackie Baldwin told the story of her wake-up call last summer. Baldwin was on the agency's Royall West playground with a group of children last summer when she got stuck while trying to crawl through a tunnel with her young charges.

Baldwin told her story, giggling at the memory, but said the experience made her realize she needed to make lifestyle changes to lose weight. The following week, she attended her first WAGES wellness meeting. "My goal," she said, "is to get through the tunnel at Royall West."

WAGES is a private, nonprofit organization in Wayne County that administers community programs such as Head Start for children and Meals on Wheels for senior adults. Last fall, the group turned to Smith to help develop a wellness program for employees.

Brownie Doss, leader of

WAGES's older adult services division, said the organization has been concerned for several years about obesity among staff members. But with recent publicity about the epidemic of overweight youth, employees decided it was time to get their own house in order.

They called on Smith, with whom they had partnered on other projects because of her community involvement and passion for helping citizens improve their health. WAGES asked Smith to help develop a workplace wellness program. She told employees that to be successful, the program had to have buy-in from administration and staff. A planning group of representatives from every WAGES program area helped plan the program.

At the WAGES Gets Fit kickoff, Smith invited the employees to "get on board with us today to go on a journey for better health." Yet Smith cautioned them to take small steps and choose an achievable goal. "The journey of a lifetime begins with just one step," she said. "We will help you to live your best life."

WAGES Gets Fit was patterned on Cooperative Extension's "Moving Toward a Healthier You" curriculum. Wellness sessions have been offered twice on Wednesdays every other week. The 27 planned sessions cover topics like "What Should I Eat?" "Fill Up, Not Out" and "Cooking with the Light Touch."

"Moving Toward a Healthier You" is a statewide initiative implemented by Smith and Geissler Baker, Guilford County family and consumer sciences agent. It was designed to challenge, motivate and inspire fellow agents, support staff, nutrition program associates and specialists to start practicing what they preach.

Smith said the rationale behind the effort was to help agents become more effective educators by modeling appropriate behaviors that help consumers move toward a healthier lifestyle. This statewide effort has been supported by Dr. Sandy Zaslow, Cooperative Extension's retired associate director for youth and family programs, and Dr. Carolyn Dunn, associate state program leader and nutrition specialist.

Dunn provided technical expertise in the design of the project and support materials. There are 158 agents and nutrition assistants across the state participating in the challenge to "get fit," inspired by Smith and Baker.

Among the first WAGES group to register, 38 people set physical activity goals; 36 set both physical activity and healthy eating goals; one person set a healthy eating goal; two people set both physical activity and work/life balance goals; and 25 people set goals for physical activity, healthy eating and work/life balance. Physical activity was by far the most popular, with 101 employees choosing that as their goal.

Smith will lead most of the sessions, in conjunction with a select group of WAGES employees. Four train-the-trainer sessions will be conducted for WAGES staff to provide them with the subject expertise, support materials and tools to enhance participants' experience of the program.

WAGES director Bryan Sutton has agreed to provide incentives for employees who make changes: 30 minutes per workday for physical activity, drawings for cash prizes for those who met their wellness goals and days off for wellness success.

In addition to attending wellness programs, participants are asked to keep a journal documenting their efforts to meet their goal. Each quarter, those who meet their goals will be entered into a drawing for $100 prizes.

Smith is committed to helping other Wayne County businesses and organizations implement wellness programs for their employees. Since the WAGES Gets Fit kickoff, two other local agencies have asked for her help to develop similar programs.

"As healthcare costs continue to rise, more and more employers are realizing that a short-term investment in their employees' health will yield long-term savings," Smith said.

And with education, support and personal determination, by spring Jackie Baldwin may be able to crawl through that tunnel at the Royall West playground.