North Mpls woman creates exercise program that keeps ‘Families in Motion’

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When Lisa Dunlap decided to embark on an exercise routine to lose weight four years ago, she thought to herself that there must be others in the community who wanted to do the same. So she called a few friends and invited them to walk with her. Today, that walking club has evolved into the Families in Motion program at Oak Park Center in North Minneapolis.

A recently separated mother of two girls and a Girl Scout leader, Dunlap describes herself as always being a go-getter and very sociable: “I like to talk to people. I enjoy getting involved in different things. I am not shy at all. Occasionally, I get butterflies in my stomach when trying to speak on different things, but I just push through it.”

It is those skills that Dunlap has applied to not only start a walking club, but also to obtain funding for the club. Since 2005, the walking club at Oak Park Center has been funded by Steps to a Healthier Minneapolis, a Minnesota Department of Health program.

Dunlap has also been recognized by her employer, Pillsbury United Communities, for her leadership. In June 2004, she was awarded the Meritorious Neighborhood Service Award, and in September 2007 she received the Phyllis Colwell award.

In 2004, Dunlap felt motivated to lose weight and make some changes in her life at a cost that was not prohibitive. “I’m big on not paying for things,” she says. “We already pay so much for things; [a] workout should be free.”

She discussed the idea of a walking club with a few friends, and they agreed it would be a good opportunity to support each other in accomplishing their mutual goals. Dunlap then presented the idea to her director at Oak Park Center, where she had been volunteering for almost a year.

At the first meeting with her friends and their friends and their friends’ friends, Dunlap shared her vision that they would get together regularly and work out to meet their personal fitness goals. “And that it wouldn’t just be something that happened, but that it would be celebrated,” she explains.

The group’s enthusiasm was boundless — suggestions flowed: They would talk about their diets; they would share recipes; they would measure each other; they would start an email group; and more importantly, they would hold each other accountable.

They met every evening and walked outdoors for over an hour, and when it got cold they found an indoor gym they could use for free. They alternated their walk routine with exercise videotapes, and some of the women started running. In 2005, registration grew to 124 women from the neighborhood. “It grew by word of mouth; it was fun,” says Dunlap.

In the second year, four husbands joined the group, and in the third year other men did as well.

Also in the second year of the walking club, Dunlap applied for and received the Steps to a Healthier Minneapolis grant; and it has been renewed every year since. With funding, day care was provided for children too young to walk with their parents. Dunlap also began to actively recruit new members and encouraged them to start their own subgroups, whether in their churches, at work or at school.

At the end of the third year, Dunlap became aware of the growing number of overweight kids, and she thought a fitness group for the entire family might be welcomed in the community. She raised the idea with the walking club members; they were reluctant at first to change directions, but they had faith in Dunlap’s leadership. A fitness group for families — Families in Motion — was designed.

Dunlap by then was employed by Oak Park Center; after she was promoted to a higher position, the new program was placed under the reins of a new hire.

Families in Motion provides games and activities for families in the neighborhood to have fun together and increase their families’ physical activity, health and nutritional knowledge. There are 18 families participating so far this year.

Dunlap has lived in Oak Park for over 30 years, and her daughters go to school in the neighborhood as well. “I hold the community close to my heart, and I want to do whatever I can for the community to succeed as a whole and not so much as an individual,” says Dunlap.

Dunlap has lost 65 pounds since she started the program, and she and her daughters continue to exercise regularly. “My greatest accomplishment was the camaraderie with all the women,” says Dunlap. “We still talk. We invite each other to family gatherings. I really enjoyed having these ladies in my life.”

For more information about Oak Park Center’s Families in Motion program, call 612-377-7000.

Jennifer Holder welcomes reader responses to jholder@spokesman-recorder.com.

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