Six years ago, staff from the Philadelphia Laborers’ District Council Health & Safety Fund (PLDCHSF) noticed a lack of member participation in events and wellness programming. They knew getting people to engage in health and wellness initiatives and events can sometimes be challenging – members already work long hours and have family commitments, personal obligations and interests outside of work.

LIUNA General
Secretary-Treasurer
and LHSFNA Labor
Co-Chairman
Armand E. Sabitoni

How could they increase participation in health and wellness programming while also creating a sense of community among members?

“The changes needed to form and maintain healthy lifestyle behaviors and habits often happen off the clock,” says LIUNA General Secretary-Treasurer and LHSFNA Labor Co-Chairman Armand E. Sabitoni. “Finding creative ways to engage members in the areas of health and wellness can also help build the bonds of friendship and camaraderie among LIUNA Brothers and Sisters.”

To drive engagement, PLDCHSF staff came up with the idea to find members willing to act as liaisons between area Locals and PLDCHSF’s wellness initiatives and programming. These liaisons would be known as wellness champions.

Getting the Wellness Champion Network Off the Ground

At the start, each LIUNA Local Business Manager appointed a member in good standing with an excellent safety record to be a wellness champion. Champions agreed to serve a one-year term and act as beacons for health, safety and fitness while working to inspire their fellow members on and off the job. Today, the wellness champion network consists of one liaison representing each of the three Locals that comprise the District Council.

Wellness champion Terell Jenkins LIUNA Local 332

“The champion doesn’t need to be a gym rat; they need to be someone who makes health and safety a priority,” says Angelic Lowe, Health and Safety Awareness Educator for the PLDCHSF [pictured at top, on left]. Champions serve as positive role models to their fellow members and other workers by practicing wellness-enhancing behaviors and promoting health and safety. Wellness champions bring information from the PLDCHSF to union meetings and jobsites, distribute flyers and posters and also spread health and safety messaging via word of mouth.

Wellness champions also encourage LIUNA members to participate in community events the PLDCHSF is involved in. When selecting events, the PLDCHSF strives to link fitness with charity to combine enhancing one’s physical well-being with social and corporate responsibility. Some of the events the PLDCHSF has been involved in include Big Climb Philly benefiting the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, Get Your Rear in Gear benefiting the Colon Cancer Coalition and the Bike MS: City to Shore Ride benefiting the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.

Going beyond fitness-related events, wellness champions also promote PLDCHSF events organized for LIUNA members and their families. For example, one event had an anti-bullying theme where champions taught kids about respect, caring for one another and gaining the strength and courage to stand up for themselves.

Benefits of the Champion Network Go Both Ways

Wellness champion Travis Lively LIUNA Local 57

In addition to benefiting members in the field, the wellness champions also bring information and feedback from members back to the PLDCHSF. This two-way street is one of the key factors contributing to the success of the network because it allows PLDCHSF staff to create tailored programming that directly addresses the health, safety and wellness needs of the membership.

This feedback has allowed Lowe and Traci Goldstein, Health and Safety Wellness Educator at the PLDCHSF [pictured at top, on right], to focus on designing holistic programs and approaches that meet members’ needs. One example is acknowledging all the work and home stressors a member may experience and supporting them to be their best at work. “Everything we do is about the members … bringing education and opportunities to them to be able to help,” says Goldstein.

The Wellness Champion Network in Action

Since creating the wellness champion network, participation in wellness programming and community events has skyrocketed. What started out as 20-30 members attending programs and events has swelled to upwards of 300 participants.

Wellness champion Mark Freeman, LIUNA Local 413

With participation growing, Lowe and Goldstein were asked how they measure the success of the PLDCHSF’s programming. “Success is seeing that we’re making a difference in the lives of individual members, helping them with their weight loss goals, that participation in fitness endeavors teaches them the value of true grit and determination, the pride of fulfilling a goal and the feelings of accomplishment that come with it,” says Lowe.

There’s no doubt that the combination of health and safety focused programming delivered by wellness champions has driven participation and engagement in PLDCHSF  initiatives. Other LIUNA District Councils, Local Unions and LIUNA affiliates could follow this model to achieve similar results.

For more information about how you can launch your own wellness champion network, contact Emily Smith in the LHSFNA’s Health Promotion Division.

[Nick Fox & Emily Smith, Health Promotion Manager]