Answer

When I became a personal trainer in the mid-1990s, one of my goals was to become successful enough to be in a position to volunteer my services. At the time, personal training was still perceived largely as a luxury item for wealthy people. I entered this industry with a commitment to make fitness a reality for as many people as I could.

I look for volunteer opportunities that meet two criteria. First, the activity has to be something I feel a strong desire to participate in. Second—and most important—it has to have the potential for massive impact. I believe trainers need to make the most of their time even when volunteering. I look for opportunities that will draw attention to fitness and provide leadership, education and inspiration, not only to those receiving the services, but also to the general public. With the dismal state of health in the world, trainers should look for every opportunity to inspire more people to be fit.

For about a year I have held a volunteer position as the athletic conditioning
specialist for the Special Olympics of Maryland. I wrote and provided instruction for fitness routines for over 30 athletes who participated in the summer 2003 World Games in Ireland. It was a thrill to see the athletes improving their fitness level regardless of how that improvement would impact their performance. Many of them had never exercised; previously they had just competed in their events without preparation. Their fitness and function improved dramatically, and these results carried over into their everyday lives. Several of the athletes’ parents also participated in the training and began to exercise with their children. In the media coverage, my aim was to make the concept of working with a trainer seem like a real possibility for all people.

In 2004 I plan to organize a charity fitness event to benefit cancer prevention organizations. Again my goal is to use my talents to benefit a cause I care about while influencing as many people as possible to live the best lives they can. What keeps me looking for new opportunities to leave the world in better shape? I can sum up my motivation by paraphrasing a quote from Emerson: “To know even one life has breathed easier because you lived—this is to have succeeded.”

Jonathan Ross
IDEA Elite Personal Fitness Trainer
NSCA- and ACE-Certified Personal Trainer
Owner, Aion Fitness
Personal Training Director, Sport Fit Total Fitness Club
Bowie, Maryland

Answer

For most of us trainers, there are times, such as after the holidays, when we have more clients than we know what to do with and picking up a new client is not uppermost in our minds. However, at other times, such as in the summer when clients are out of town or tied up with other commitments, we would love to pick up some new clients. But this is not always easy. Many people re reluctant to pay $35 to $70 a session when they do not know what they will be getting. For this reason, volunteering can be helpful.

I offer a free session to several local charities, to be used in event drawings. Every time I have donated a session and the winner has trained with me once, he has seen the value in personal training and decided to sign up for more sessions. Some people have even become lifelong clients and friends.

I have also worked in facilities where trainers give new members one free session to help them get used to the equipment. New members often decide right away that they want to pay for more sessions to help them get results. Volunteering for one session can be well worth the time when someone buys several more sessions because of the experience. I think that giving a session for free can also make people feel you really do care about them! I have at times given a personal training session without expecting anything in return. I think all trainers have given sessions to family members. Who would expect his mother to pay? I once trained an anorexic girl just because she looked so lost and I knew I could help her.

Sometimes what you get in return can’t be measured in terms of money. While all of us need to make a living, I believe that the rewards I get from giving my time to someone out of kindness can sometimes be more meaningful than the ability to pay my electric bill! All in all, I think we fitness professionals have the greatest jobs on earth.

Lauren Eirk
AFAA-, ACE-, AEA-, AAAI- and Can Fit Pro-Certified Personal Trainer
Certified Yoga Instructor
Louisville, Kentucky

Answer

When wisely assessed, volunteer opportunities can be rewarding and personally gratifying experiences as well as additions to a training career. Two governing principles can help trainers determine the best away to donate their time and talent. The first is to have a mission or purpose that outlines their priorities in their work and home life. The second is to consider whether the volunteer work enriches their lives.

Here are some questions trainers should ask themselves when deciding whether to volunteer for a certain opportunity:

  • What is the scope of duty requested?
    Can I manage it?
  • What is important to me? Does the
    volunteer work meet my priorities or
    value system?
  • Do I feel that the volunteer work is
    implicitly good?
  • Will the work be mutually beneficial?
    What do I bring to the table in relation
    to what is being asked, and/or in rela-
    tion to the goals and objectives of the
    organization?
  • Why am I willing to consider this
    opportunity? Does it enhance or
    advance my goals and objectives? Do I
    find deeper purpose and meaning in
    life by volunteering? Do I wish to
    accelerate my career? Do I have extra
    downtime that needs to be filled? Do
    I want to avoid surrendering this
    opportunity to the “competition”?

At various times the dynamics of
volunteer activity can change, but the principles remain the same, and volunteering will likely bring peace, joy and enrichment.

When giving monetary donations, I believe that giving up to 10 percent of annual gross income should be the
objective. One’s volunteer time is more difficult to measure, but I think the opportunity should feel like a win-win proposition. Trainers should feel that all parties will benefit from the volunteer service. Volunteering and charity provide a wealth of personal and professional growth opportunities. I have never looked back on a professional year and thought I volunteered too much!

Finally, a gracious paradox of volunteer work is that the giver receives so much more than the recipient—often in unexpected, rich and abundant ways. Sixteen years ago a friend asked me to serve on a committee to help build a citywide Dance for Heart fundraiser after she had lost her father to heart disease. Moved with sympathy, I naturally wanted to help. As a result of that effort, we were invited to the White House twice to participate in a national health promotion initiative that furthered our intent. Ten years ago a client asked me to join a board whose mission is to “keep the well child well.” In light of my own mission to help people stay fit for longevity, I currently serve on that board with purpose and satisfaction. It is almost impossible to imagine where I would be had I said no to these and other requests for help from individuals I care for and respect.

We help each other in this lifetime, and we are better for it. It is my hope that those I have served are also better for my service. Whether a volunteer opportunity is carefully chosen or spontaneously accepted, we never fully know the good it serves. The beauty is in the journey.

Leslie Sandoz Healy
ACE-Certified Personal Trainer
Owner, Fitness Firm Inc.
Kensington, Maryland
President, Child Health Center Board, Children’s National Medical Center
Washington, DC

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I do not pick my volunteer jobs; they seem to find me! I do most of my volunteer work for neighbors and local churches and schools. I have taught stretch and relaxation classes at church retreats; given lectures and workshops to various groups on topics such as childhood obesity and fitness basics; offered family fitness classes at health fairs; and held informal weight management sessions for my friends and neighbors. Most of all I try to help kids stay active. If an organization or individual asks me for help, I just say yes. I don’t need a reason to take a volunteer job. I actually see my role as a responsibility. If someone needs help, I am happy to share my expertise. I receive a lot of joy in return!

Lorie Lewis
ACSM-, ACE- and AFAA-Certified Personal Trainer
Springfield, Virginia

Answer

I enjoy the challenges and benefits of volunteering. Rather than simply giving away my services to an individual, however, I prefer opportunities that allow me to make a positive impact on a greater number of people. I have recently begun providing monthly fitness tips for a women’s sport and fitness Web site. I have also copresented healthy lifestyles sessions at a men’s health conference. I am an active member of a volunteer committee that promotes fitness to an entire state – through the Delaware Lieutenant Governor’s Fitness Challenge.

Because there are so many worthwhile causes, it can be difficult to decide which should take top priority. As a business owner I recognize that volunteering can often lead to new clients through networking and exposure in the community. Many opportunities to educate the public are considered newsworthy by the media. The resulting press coverage can be an enormous boost to any personal trainer’s business, and the only cost is time.

I’ve always believed charity should begin at home. I choose to give my personal resources to causes that raise awareness and/or money for conditions that have somehow touched my life. I prefer to work with organizations that address local social conditions.

As personal trainers we tend to live our careers, so there is obviously some carryover from personal to professional. When the most valuable asset we have is time, doesn’t it make sense to share it?

Joe Stankowski
Official Fitness Trainer, Miss Delaware USA
Absolute Fitness USA
Wilmington, Delaware