Want to start your own project but need some inspiration? Our Learn from a Leader blog series is profiling past ioby Leaders who succeeded in bringing more fresh food, active transport, green spaces, and other healthy improvements to their neighborhoods. Read on, and imagine what you could do on your block!
about the project
Economic and geographic access to prenatal group fitness activities in New York City is far from equitable. For the past six years, the NYC Prenatal Fitness Initiative has been working to establish a model for community-based prenatal fitness programs for low-income women all around the city.
Co-founder Andrea Mata has been teaching water exercise for over a decade. “I love sharing the joy of water with people who aren’t necessarily Olympic swimmers,” she says. When she became pregnant with her first child, Andrea found out about prenatal water exercise and took a training class in it. “That’s when I started to notice how expensive prenatal fitness is here, and how few geographic regions it’s offered in,” she says. While she still teaches water exercise to non-pregnant people, Andrea’s also become committed to helping more women access myriad forms of prenatal fitness—like walking groups, yoga, and belly dance.
- Verify the need. As a fitness instructor, I saw firsthand what was available for pregnant women in different areas—and what wasn’t. I would overhear my students at Riverbank State Park in Harlem talk about how they really wanted more of the kinds of classes I was teaching in our area, but there were so few to choose from. So I knew for sure we had a need.
- Start connecting. Identify and contact people and entities in your area who are likely to be thinking in a community way already: parks and other public spaces, city pools, yoga studios, community centers… I met a midwife who was eager to see more prenatal fitness options, too, and we started working together right away. Connect with as many of these “natural allies” as you can at the beginning, then sort out who can help you teach, promote, sponsor, fundraise, or otherwise take part.
- Success in numbers. Getting together the energy of even two or three excited people is powerful, and can help you win more support. For example, doctors and clinics have historically had some trepidation about recommending exercise like yoga to pregnant women out of concern for their safety. While that situation is changing, it can still work to your advantage to connect with a like-minded nurse or medical aid who can help promote your offering among their peers.
- Try, err, and try again. We experimented a lot with finding the right spaces, going into new neighborhoods, figuring out how to schedule a class, how to do outreach… Every change we made required consideration of new factors, like language access (hint: it’s great to have a bilingual person on your team if you can!). Just jump in, see what works, what’s sustainable, and keep refining your idea as you go.
- Stay flexible & persevere. Be prepared to shift your expectations when you need to. It’s almost a given that you’ll run into delays, low attendance, and fundraising snags at some point. Just push through, and figure out ways to keep the energy going until things shift and the right time comes. Don’t be afraid! You might be very surprised at whose attention you’ll get and who’ll offer to help—how all the pieces somehow come together. If you believe in your project and know it has value, persevere.
This depends on how large in scope you’re trying to go: just one yoga studio? Three locations in your neighborhood? borough-wide? One important thing to keep in mind is that donors usually want to support things they think will last, so you should aim to secure dedicated spaces that can host classes year-round. But also remember that your team is working on this in their spare time—it took us about two years to get off the ground (though another group might only need six months). At all stages of the game, just try to be realistic about how long it will take you to get individual tasks done—especially promotion. It’s never too early to start advertising a class!
We’ve always been very creative with our administrative costs: we send things out electronically instead of printing them, we work with spaces that don’t charge a rental fee… All the money we’ve raised has gone to support the instructors we hire: they all have tremendous gifts to share, but also need to pay their bills. We raise enough to pay them $50 per class.
- Shape Up NYC: This free drop-in fitness program offers aerobics, yoga, Pilates, Zumba, and more, and has locations across the five boroughs.
- Healthy Start Brooklyn is a city-led program that provides education about pregnancy, childbirth, parenting, breastfeeding, and healthy living for families. They coordinate both prenatal and postpartum fitness classes.
- The NYC Prenatal Fitness Initiative Facebook page. (It hasn’t been updated in a while, but shows a lot of what we’ve done.)
about the author:
Andrea Mata is a mother of two, a proud resident of Harlem/Washington Heights, and a dedicated community fitness enthusiast. She has been teaching prenatal water exercise for 13 years and co-founded the NYC Prenatal Fitness Initiative in 2010.
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