Celebrating one another is a big part of the exercise program.
Arlanda Brantley says she doesn’t come by exercising naturally. Nature? That’s not exactly her thing, either. Yet every Saturday, she leads a group of Black women on walks through Waterbury, Connecticut.
Women join her for different reasons. They want to lose weight or lower blood pressure or alleviate stress. All of them have found connection, like Brantley, through GirlTrek, the largest public health nonprofit for African-American women and girls in the U.S. The local chapter is sponsored by NeighborWorks network organization NHS Waterbury (NHSW).
NHSW reached out to Brantley and other resident leaders to run the chapter. Ian Blake, coordinator of Community Building and Engagement for NHSW, says starting the program in Waterbury was personal for him; his mother died of a heart attack at age 49. “Walking is a practical first step to inspire healthy living,” Blake says. “We wanted to bring that spirt to Waterbury.” The first walk took place on his mother’s birthday in July 2019.
“I don’t want to exercise,” Brantley explains. “But I need to.” Through GirlTrek (their team is officially known as NHSW GirlTrek, though they also call themselves the Waterbury Trackers), she meets different people each week, though many become regulars who commit to walking again and again.
“Creating healthier communities takes partnership and a focus on supporting residents most affected by an issue,” says Romi Hall, director of Healthy Homes and Communities for NeighborWorks. When partners work together with a community – and when relationships come into play – those programs can serve as an anchor. “NHS Waterbury’s partnership with GirlTrek is doing just that, and providing an opportunity for Black women to come together in a safe space to work on improving their individual health while addressing changes they want to make in their neighborhood.”
A coach works with the women in Waterbury who exercise together and improve health together.
NHSW offers incentives, like gift cards for walking shoes. Once a month the women go out for breakfast or to get smoothies. They support each other, reminding one another to take their medication, solving problems while they walk. They cheer when they reach fitness goals.
Brantley lists off the things they celebrate: Walking 10,000 steps, completing a mile, birthdays, weight loss, showing up. , “We celebrate everything,” she says.
Hall notes that nearly 70% of NeighborWorks network organizations are implementing solutions to improve the health and well-being of their residents. “NeighborWorks supports our network by working “upstream” to improve living conditions and address social and racial inequities,” she says. “We also build the capacity of our network to create health partnerships, measure impact and outcomes, integrate the social determinants of health into their existing programs, and secure grant and capital investments.”