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Volunteers Offer Sequestration Solution for Military Facilities

As budget cuts continue to affect fitness facilities across the military, volunteers could be the key to keeping your programs running smoothly.

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As fitness facilities across the military find programs in the budget-cutting crosshairs prompted by sequestration, individual facilities must make tough decisions about which ones to either modify or eliminate. But amid these difficult times, innovative and effective solutions often emerge that reflect local initiatives, and serve as models for other locations daunted by cuts.

Budget impacts are nothing new. Mica Koefod, fitness program specialist at Fort Belvoir, Va., said the furlough had impacted civilian participation in a base fitness program. And any reduction in fitness center hours at a given facility affects everyone.

Fiscal belt-tightening has hit Naval Air Station Jacksonville, Fla., as the base fitness facility eliminated 10 operating hours per week and cut 17 of 29 classes. Tanya Henigman, NAS Jacksonville's athletic director, says fewer hours impacted many users with odd shifts who would exercise before or after work.

But when it came to fitness classes, it was a different story.

The Florida Times Union first reported that volunteers had stepped in and were keeping several classes afloat. In most cases, the volunteers were class participants who just happened to be certified in that particular exercise. It gave them the opportunity to continue their workouts, and by volunteering as instructors, they kept the classes open.

Newly certified instructors also saw benefits to volunteering, something Henigman says other facilities could easily emulate.

"We've taken new instructors that have their national certification and we've empowered them to start teaching these classes to gain experience," she says. "There's a lot of fitness facilities that won't hire you unless you have your experience."

These individuals also get the workout they need, it's convenient, and they don't have to find (or pay for) another workout location.

In order for this process to work, Henigman insists a few conditions must be in place. For starters, all of her volunteers possess national certifications that are highly recognized through MWR.

But that's only the beginning. Henigman notes that facilities must ensure they welcome and encourage volunteers to actually step up. Most volunteers were simply class attendees who wanted to keep the program going, and the leaders at the facility were open to such solutions. Henigman says command fitness leaders in the Navy are crucial as well.

"We had a [TRX] course here a while back, and we actually empowered some of our CFLs to take the course and get certified," she says. "So some of our CFLs were actually instructing the TRX class and doing it on a volunteer basis." The TRX classes were originally scheduled for elimination.

Henigman also notes the important role of base leadership: "Where the real power comes from is when you've got your executive staff that believes in your vision and supports it," she says.

Henigman now says she's had to turn away volunteers or use them as alternates because so many want to participate.

So far, NAS Jacksonville hasn't seen nearly the amount of class reductions it anticipated. Original class cuts were from 29 to 12 classes, but with volunteer support, the base still offers 26 classes, with volunteers teaching 17 of them.

It's a reality that bases likely will face in the future against tighter budgets, but with word-of-mouth and leadership encouragement, Henigman says she's not only maintaining most of the originally doomed classes but she also is strengthening the base's fitness community.

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