Late last summer, I was contacted by Veronica Everett-Boyce, founder of Urban Fitness 911, an initiative project whose main goals are decreasing childhood and adult obesity in low-income communities through nutritional education while also improving the mental, physical and emotional health of the men, women and children living in these communities. She asked me to head up the life coaching part of her program that addresses the mental and emotional health of the participants. After talking with Veronica about her project, I was so inspired by her that I found myself saying, “Yes,” despite my full work and project load. Veronica is clearly out to make a change in the world, and based on her passion and abilities, I knew she could!
Enter the LA Mission. Founded in 1936, the Los Angeles Mission is a non-profit, privately supported, faith-based organization that serves the immediate and long-term needs of homeless and disadvantaged men, women and children. The Mission is among the nation’s largest service providers to the homeless. Working together, Urban Fitness 911 and the LA Mission strive to help these men and women get ready to face life after they leave the Mission.
This comprehensive program was planned with three main parts to it. First, a personal training aspect in which a branch of the Equinox fitness club in West LA, headed up by Nina Moore, would bring out high-level personal trainers to the Mission to work with the men and women twice a week. Second, Ashley Koff, a dietitian who regularly appears on television shows such as The Dr. Oz Show and The Doctors would help the participants learn about nutrition and a healthy diet. And finally, I was to head up the coaching side of the program. My main task would be to bring in five male and five female life coaches to help fifty men and women find ways to feel more confident and feel better about their lives. Our goal was to get them motivated and to help them set and achieve their personal goals in a 90-day program.
Well, if you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.
We found after the first week of sessions that we were not going to be following a standard set curriculum on achieving goals for these men and women. Before we could embark on any program, we realized that what they really desired, what they really needed, is something we all need:
To be heard. To be understood. To be valued.
We knew this initiative was not going to be easy, not only because they didn’t trust us yet, but more importantly, they were just learning to trust themselves and their own inner voice. So, we began the life coaching sessions from a very basic level.
This part of the article gives you an insider’s look into my experience working with the women of the LA Mission/Urban Fitness 911 program.
Unless you have been up close and personal with the Skid Row community, you might only identify those who live there as homeless or disadvantaged, but this is just what we see on the surface. Some of these women are highly educated; some embody wisdom beyond their years or upbringing. Furthermore, if we look deeper and get to know the people on a personal level we find that, while we may live in different parts of the city and live different lives, we all struggle with similar issues – we want to be understood, we want to be happy and we want to be loved. Instead of starting with their goals and what they want out of life, we started with the basic premise of establishing trust. This new positioning of the program made the coaches feel that there was something more profound ready to unfold. I think we all knew in that moment,
They are going to help us just as much as we are going to help them. It is a full circle effect.
We discovered new ways to establish a rapport with these women. For example, prior to one of the sessions on the topic of vulnerability, I shared a story about a challenge I was facing concerning my childhood best friend, who is in a life/death struggle with her own alcohol addiction. This was an all-too-familiar topic for many of the women, as many of them came from backgrounds of addiction. Although I only found out about my friend’s condition that day and I was truly struggling to process this myself, I decided to let them in. My eyes filled with tears as I told them how scared I was for my friend and how much I loved her and did not want her to die.
I could have taken a more traditional and conservative approach in the lesson of vulnerability rather than sharing the truth about my fears, my sadness and real life concern for my friend. Instead, I shared my agonizing experience and let them see into my pain and my heart. In that moment, we connected, and what I got back was an overwhelming amount of love, openness and genuine concern for both me and for my friend. They all wanted to help. What bubbled up in me was how inspiring they all were! Without knowing it, they were giving me the courage to set boundaries with my friend. After watching them work each week on turning their lives around from a major challenge to a major opportunity, I knew then, so could my friend, if she would only choose to do so. I absolutely believe that if I had just talked about vulnerability and had not shown them such a close-to-home example of my own willingness to be open, then this lesson would not have gone anywhere near as deep as it did.
Life is about connecting, not just from your head, but also from your heart. @LifeBites
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Another great example from these sessions: One of the women opened up about how one of the coaches helped her begin healing her inner child (primal self). She said, “Now that I am learning to love myself, I can really love me and my children in an entirely new way. I wish I had these tools twenty years earlier.” Connection and healing is what this program is all about. You can learn to use life tools intellectually, but it is not until you make the connection from your heart and soul that you can bring about important life changes. The life coaches and I did not want to just show up and tell them how their life should be lived. We wanted them to see our struggles and issues and to let them know they are not alone.
All of our coaches experienced similar remarkable moments like I had. One of the other coaches, Wendy Newman, said, “I knew we had something special when this turned out to be more than a ‘ninety-day-get-your-goals-together-plan,’ but about women coming together to connect and support each other on deeper levels. As women, we often feel we can do it all ourselves, but the truth is, this type of support from other women is incredibly valuable. While defining goals and taking steps towards reaching them is great, the support these women both gave and received from one another is something that all women should experience. It can be life-changing! We all have our own individual challenges and fears about success or failure, no matter what our life looks like on the outside. It’s easy for our society to label or judge people for their past actions and behaviors. We all make mistakes. I acknowledge these women for their courage and determination to take the steps to start anew and transform their life. What would it be like if we all learned to support one another the way these women do and to take the necessary steps to transform our lives? We would live in a very different world.”
”These sentiments were echoed even more strongly by another one of the coaches, Marigrace Lonergan Gleason, who facilitates women empowerment circles, exclaiming “This has been one of the most enriching groups I have been a part of in the last twenty years of doing this work!”
Each week, for ninety minutes, the women come together in a large group that we call a “teachable moment.” We all work together, utilizing some of the great wisdom from popular self-help gurus like Don Miguel Ruiz, author of The Four Agreements which emphasizes being impeccable with your word, not taking things personally, not making assumptions and always doing your best, to Brene’ Brown’s bestselling book, Daring Greatly, about vulnerability and risk. We wanted to introduce them to life tools that you don’t just learn from a textbook or Life 101, and we wanted to jump right in and learn together. After concluding in the large group, each coach breaks out into smaller groups of five and six to discuss the topic more fully and for the participants to share on the topic and relevant personal experiences.
Early on in one of our sessions, Wendy and I had a big conflict arise between us. Ironically, that very next day, we were talking about conflict resolution in our life coaching sessions, since disagreements are part of everyday life with these women living, studying and healing together for a one year period under one roof. We knew that we needed to resolve our personal issue prior to the group session, but we also knew that this was a great opportunity and an incredibly timely life lesson we could share with them.
You can have conflict and still remain good friends and colleagues.
We let them into on our struggle, and how hard it was, at times, to hear the other person’s point of view and to still maintain a higher intention of resolution and understanding. We showed that it is not that you don’t have issues, but it is learning how to express those issues in a way that each of you feels heard and understood. Letting them in on our conflict gave us a great opportunity to do more than just talk about conflict. It allowed them to see how the conflict had been resolved and that coming out on the other side creates a new sense of empowerment in the relationship.
The sharing of our personal experiences is what, I feel, helped these women feel secure and confident enough to share their own experiences and continue the healing process. “Our number one goal with the women must be to create a safe environment, and to provide the opportunity to let each of these women open up to their best selves,” says Marigrace. “For some of these women, this was the first time they had ever given themselves permission to even think about loving themselves.”
In one of our sessions, Veronica, the founder of Urban Fitness 911, a gorgeous ball of energy, shared her personal story with the women. Veronica comes from the projects. She has dealt with poverty, a rough childhood and sexual abuse. By sharing her own personal story and inviting the women into her challenging past, it gave permission for one of the women, to open up about her own past and begin her healing.
There is a saying in life, “You are as sick as your secrets.”
That day, secrets were shared and life revealed to us that this program was bigger and more profound than any of us could have imagined. It was truly special.
Places like the Los Angeles Mission and great programs like Urban Fitness 911 are so needed in our communities. It takes courage, strength, tenacity, perseverance, knowledge, trust and life tools to make it in this world. Having had the opportunity to be part of such a wonderful program, I feel deeply blessed. Now, when I have my bad days and think that nothing is possible, I reflect back to these brave, strong and powerful women who taught me so much as I move forward. They have given me a profound hope and wisdom that will be with me for years to come. They have given me the ability to see the world not as it is, but as it could be. I know that their MISSION (To take responsibility and change their lives) as well as my MISSION (To help transform their lives and mine) is indeed, POSSIBLE!
Everyone has a story. Everyone has a journey. Everyone has a Mission.
LifeBites Question of the week: What is your MISSION in your life?
If you would like to donate to Urban Fitness 911’s fall program or find out more about this cause, click here.
Nina Boski is an entertainment and lifestyle expert and the host and Executive Producer of LifeBites LIVEon emPOWERme.TV. Nina can also be found on Facebook, Twitter and LifeBites.com. She is the leader of the Life Coaching program for Urban Fitness 911 pilot program.
April 29, 2014