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Manager Focuses on People

Kari Porter manages the Eugene Family YMCA fitness center with a focus on people - members, non-members and staff.

Sometimes when people take on greater responsibilities within an organization, they lose track of why they wanted to be a part of the company in the first place. Not so for Kari Porter, who is director of health and wellness at the Eugene Family YMCA in Eugene, Ore. Porter began working as a pre-school teacher at the Y, and now manages more than 30 staff members, coordinating the training and scheduling of group exercise instructors who lead 80 land classes per week, and the staff members who are responsible for the YMCA Health and Wellness Center and the UCAN Gym (for exercisers who are in wheelchairs). Throughout her 11 years at the facility, Porter hasn't forgotten that the reason she wanted to work at the Y in the first place was because of the people. "The thing I like most about my job is working with people. I love the community spirit and involvement I get by working at the YMCA. I know so many people from many generations and walks of life, and that helps make me feel whole and connected," she says. "Working at the YMCA is where my love for getting people fit and healthy came to the surface."

Kari Porter

Director of Health & Wellness
Eugene Family YMCA, Eugene, Ore.

Years at facility: 11

Education: Degree in Recreation & Leisure Studies from Western Washington University, Bellingham, Wash.

Certifications: From the YMCA of the USA: Foundations of Group Exercise Instructor & Trainer, Strength Training Director, Personal Training Instructor, Personal Fitness Program Director, Fitness Specialist Instructor & Trainer, and Pilates Instructor; Other: AFAA Aerobics Instructor Certification and American Red Cross CPR/First Aid Trainer

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Porter's responsibilities are many and varied. In addition to managing the fitness center and its staff, she also is project manager for Activate America, a YMCA initiative that seeks to address the growing obesity crisis among kids and families in the U.S. She also coordinates a team of six YMCA staff members who seek to improve health and wellness in the facility and the community. Says Associate Executive Director Julie Grossman, "In the first year of this program, Kari led the team to create changes in our YMCA, big and small, that have had a lasting positive impact on how we encourage and support well-being in our community's kids, families and adults. We would not have had the success we've had in this initiative without her leadership." Porter is also a certified group exercise instructor, and is certified to "train the trainers." Every year, she helps to coordinate and lead a regional YMCA Group Exercise Training program.

In addition to her work inside the facility, and with training other Y trainers, Porter works with non-members in the community. She helped to create a community program called Oasis, which is an educational outreach program designed for older adults. "Over the years, we have created a handful of classes that have been really helpful to people outside of our YMCA. By delivering a class to non-YMCA members, we have helped spread the word about [the Y], ... and hopefully positively affected a community member's life."

One of Porter's biggest challenges at her job was learning to teach group exercise classes. "I had no experience teaching group exercise classes, and within six months of working in my new management position, I was leading classes two times a week. I figured that the best way to relate and understand my staff was to do what they do; to share the same struggles of coming up with new material, overcome obstacles of space and equipment, and have the same touch-time with members as they did. This was a challenge at first - learning to teach does not happen over night. ... But over time I got better, and now teaching brings me much joy."

Porter stays motivated by interacting with other staff members. "I get motivated when I see staff who are hard workers, compassionate and professional, and who really care for our members and what is best for them. When I see other staff help members meet their goals, and see the happiness their relationship brings to their lives, I feel proud knowing that we, at the YMCA, are doing the job we set out to do."

By doing what she loves, and being part of a facility she can be proud of, Porter has excelled at her job, and has become an inspiration to members and coworkers. Says Grossman, "I have never known a person more dedicated to supporting others on their road to well-being and taking care of every detail essential to those ends than Porter." She truly is a star at the Eugene Family YMCA.
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