Pam Weston worked in the fitness industry for 30 years, founding Pam Phillips Fitness Limited and Spynergy Cycling Studio in Winnetka.
She decided to sell her successful business several years ago, but wanted to remain involved in the fitness industry and give back in some way.
Weston knew that the best time to instill healthy eating and exercise habits is when children are young. So she decided to help Latino families in Highland Park and Highwood get fit by reaching out to their children. Weston provided the funding through her family’s foundation and collaborated with the Family Network’s Right from the Start program to offer an after-school fitness and nutrition program at Oak Terrace Elementary School.
“My goal was to immerse the entire family to make good health and fitness choices,” Weston says of the pilot program that began in 2008.
Weston designed an after-school program to teach youngsters about eating nutritious foods and getting physical activity in a way that is fun and engaging. One day a week, Weston would prepare a healthy snack like celery and peanut butter with the students and talk to them about the importance of choosing nutritious, low-calorie foods over fatty snacks that are high in sugar and calories. On another afternoon each week, Weston would lead the children in a high-intensity fitness activity like kickboxing or Pilates.
The combination of nutritional information and physical activity, Weston says, was highly effective. The students began requesting healthier foods at home and sharing the things they’d learned, such as how to read food labels, with their parents.
To help the whole family get fit, Weston also started offering free fitness classes for the mothers in the community. To ensure that the busy moms would be able to take some time out for themselves, Weston also offered free on-site child care.
The program has been a hit throughout the community, and at least 50 students and their families have participated. It’s become so popular that there is now a waiting list to enroll.
After getting the program off the ground, Weston is no longer involved on a day-to-day basis. She’s entrusted her colleague Cristina Persico to carry on the work she started.
“It’s a very special program, and something that should be implemented in other schools,” Weston says. “It’s not extremely expensive, and it really does impact the community.”