Housekeepers Walk the Wall for Wellness

East Campus housekeepers get fit with employee wellness program

It's 7 a.m. - break time for East Campus housekeepers who have been on duty for two hours. 

A group of six men and women head for a gathering spot behind the Friedl Building, near the office of their supervisor, Ben Blount.

"C'mon, let's walk!" Blount shouts as he strides down the sidewalk toward the 1.5 mile loop around the East Campus wall.

With help from LIVE FOR LIFE, Duke's employee wellness program, these Duke housekeepers have committed to walking together three times a week to improve their health. LIVE FOR LIFE offers health assessments and other tools to assist departments in starting health-related programs and has worked closely with the housekeepers on East Campus to ensure they have the knowledge and motivation needed to improve their health.

"We are eager to support departmental-based programs to promote health," said Liz Grabosky, LIVE FOR LIFE fitness manager. "But it is important to have the support of the leadership and someone like Ben Blount to take charge of the logistics to make the program sustainable."

Blount said he first involved LIVE FOR LIFE by inviting the program's fitness and wellness specialists to his East Campus Housekeeping staff meeting. Some employees got weighed and had their blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar tested. They also took quick strength and flexibility tests.

"It was an opportunity to open up their eyes to where they were, physically," Blount said.

Quinceline Parrish, who has worked as a housekeeper at Duke for four years, joined the walking group to lose 10 pounds and lower her cholesterol level. 

"I've walked the wall on my own before, but it is better with other folks," she said. "And I've learned some new things, especially about stretching so my legs don't get so tight and tired."

So far, she's lost several pounds and is looking forward to her next doctor's visit to check her cholesterol levels.

To get started with the program, Blount worked with housekeeping management to re-arrange break times for the 10 housekeepers who signed up to walk the East Campus wall trail. 

LIVE FOR LIFE assigned intern Kelly Cummens to work with the group for eight weeks to provide extra motivation and instruction. Cummens joins the group each Friday for the walk and leads an extra 10 minutes of strength and flexibility exercises at the end of the walk. She also enrolled participants in the "Take Ten" walking program, which allows participates to earn LIVE FOR LIFE dollars for each 10-minutes of walking they complete.

When the group's work with Cummens ends in a few weeks, the housekeepers plan to stick with the walking program. "We are going to take what Kelly taught us and use it to keep getting healthier," Blount said.  

Blount, who was in the Marine Corps for 21 years, said he championed the program because he cares about the welfare of his colleagues. The camaraderie of the group makes the experience powerful, he said.

"We can all push each other a bit, and joke together about how we need to do more," he said. "The strong carry the weak, and everyone gets to share about how they are doing."

Georgianna Watson, who has worked at Duke for 15 years, said the weekly walking program is energizing and is helping her lose weight to drop a dress size. 

"Ain't nobody gonna make me mad today," joked Watson as she wiped sweat off her forehead after a recent walk. "I've done my exercise."

Want to Start a Department Exercise Group?

LIVE FOR LIFE, Duke's employee wellness program, offers the following tips for starting a departmental fitness program:

1. Get approval from a manager or supervisor. 

2. Invite LIVE FOR LIFE to a staff meeting to provide health fitness testing and education about health and fitness resources available through Duke.

3. Appoint a "captain," a colleague willing to take the lead on logistics, scheduling and other needs. 

4. Invite LIVE FOR LIFE to jumpstart the program by attending the first event.