The Phillips community in Minneapolis, Minn. is one of the most diverse and densely populated communities in the U.S. — and also one of the poorest. With the local population plagued by health disparities, the Running Wolf Fitness Center was re-opened in October 2011 through collaboration with the Native American Community Clinic and the Indian Health Board of Minneapolis, to better serve the community’s overall health and fitness needs.
The Running Wolf Fitness Center had previously been opened in another location and closed due to lack of funding. According to Connie Norman, the manager of Running Wolf, its closing left a void in the community. Many of the residents of the Phillips community couldn’t afford to pay memberships at other fitness centers, and transportation to other clubs was an issue as well. “People were always asking, ‘when are you going to open Running Wolf again?’” said Norman. “People who had made changes at Running Wolf lost those changes when the center closed because they couldn’t afford to go anywhere else.”
Re-opened and funded by grants and donations, the Running Wolf Fitness Center is the only club that affordably serves the local community. Memberships are $10 per month, or $30 for families of three or more. Running Wolf now caters to over 500 clients and is run by a group of two staff members, interns and volunteers. The center has cardio and strength equipment, group fitness classes operated by certified volunteer instructors and health and wellness seminars.
Due to the health disparities that plagued the community — such as diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and obesity — each community member who comes in receives an extensive fitness evaluation, and Norman and her colleagues monitor their progress over the course of their membership. “In the short time we’ve been open it has made a huge impact in the community — many of our clients have made positive health changes, such as weight loss, lower blood pressure, better diabetes management and better self confidence,” said Norman.
To combat the high rate of disease and chronic conditions, Running Wolf started instilling healthy fitness values into children at a young age. “We start kids at a little younger than most fitness clubs — we start them at 8 years old — we see a high rate of diabetes and obesity in kids even at this age,” said Norman. Down the street from the fitness center is the Nawayee Center School, a Native American magnet school for children in grades 7-12. As a reward for good attendance and positive behavior, some of the students get to work out at Running Wolf during the week. “We see them come in excited to work out, and their attitude has changed about exercise and generally they are more positive when they leave the fitness center,” explained Norman.
Although Running Wolf has made a positive impact on the community, according to Norman, the center is constantly struggling to keep afloat. “One of the things we see is that when it comes to funding at the grass roots community level, the money doesn’t trickle down from state, county and city,” she said. “We’re constantly struggling to keep the doors open.” Norman and her volunteers work hard to make sure the center doesn’t close again, so it can continue to be there to empower the Phillips community towards better health and fitness.
For information on how to donate to the center, call Connie Norman, the Running Wolf manager at 612.872.2388.
By Rachel Zabonick