NVFC Establishes Staff Health and Fitness Program

Friday, 29 August 2008

It’s 1:30 pm on a Monday afternoon at the National Volunteer Fire Council’s (NVFC) headquarters in Greenbelt, MD. Staff members have been busy all morning with projects, meetings, phone calls, and other tasks, but now they are congregating in an open area of the office. Eight chairs are set up in front of an LCD projector and laptop, with a YouTube video from SparkPeople.com ready to be projected onto the wall. Some staff members have changed into sneakers, and everyone begins to take their places in the room, eager to get started.

What’s about to happen, you ask? A Manic Monday office workout! Fifteen minutes of simple, non-impact exercises that can be done anywhere in the office, even at a desk. “Man, I really feel the burn!” declares Allison Moore, NVFC’s Government Affairs Associate, during a series of triceps dips.

This scene is all part of a new initiative the NVFC has launched this year, but it doesn’t involve legislative issues or firefighter recruitment statistics. It’s the new NVFC Employee Wellness Initiative, headed by Lillian Ricardo, the NVFC’s Health and Safety Project Coordinator, who has become the internally appointed Wellness Coordinator.

“Maggie Wilson [NVFC’s Director of Health and Safety] and I looked into the American Heart Association’s (AHA) Start! Fit Friendly Company Program, which recognizes employers who create a support system for a healthy work environment. We thought this was a great way to bring staff together to accomplish a positive goal,” said Ricardo. “And with the NVFC’s focus on first responder health through the Heart-Healthy Firefighter Program, it seemed fitting to establish a program for the NVFC staff to concentrate on their health too.”

To apply as a Fit Friendly Company through the AHA, the NVFC had to create a wellness program that meets specified standards in promoting fitness and good nutrition in the workplace. With the support and encouragement of Executive Director Heather Schafer, the NVFC began its commitment to create a healthier office environment for its employees.

The program kicked off in May with the mission “to foster an encouraging and positive atmosphere in which employees will be able and encouraged to make healthy choices in the areas of nutrition, fitness, mental wellness, and overall health.” Components of the initiative include:

  • a monthly employee wellness challenge that encourages staff to meet a set health or fitness goal for that month;
  • a community bulletin board, periodically updated by Ricardo, which features information centered around the monthly challenge or a health awareness issue;
  • a walking policy to encourage “walking meetings” once a week, where staff can take their meetings outdoors;
  • brief educational sessions on topics such as portion control and relaxation techniques;
  • healthy food options at all staff events where food is provided;
  • Manic Monday office workouts, which take place twice a month.

“Our first monthly challenge was the Step It Up Challenge. Everyone was issued a pedometer and tracking sheet and encouraged to increase the number of steps they took each week,” explained Ricardo.

Kimberly Ettinger, Director of Communications, won this challenge by increasing her step total by 73.5 percent over the course of the month. “Participating in the challenge really motivated me to start walking more and getting creative with ways I can get more steps in each week,” said Ettinger. “I soon discovered there were many ways I could increase my step totals, such as parking further away from the office, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, walking to the grocery store instead of driving, and even simply taking longer and more frequent walks with my dog.”

Other challenges have included the “48-A-Day,” where each staff member was issued a water bottle and encouraged to drink 48 ounces of water each day during the month. The Employee Wellness Initiative has been a success and has motivated employees to get moving at work and to make more healthful choices,

Interested in starting a health and wellness program in your department or workplace? Check out these web sites:



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