Monday, April 21, 2014

Thank You Karen for Making us MOVE!

I don’t know about you, but I CANNOT dance. There is one place however, I feel like I could almost be Shakira. That is in Karen Gonzalez’s Zumba class at the South Franklin Community Center.

This is Karen!

Karen’s contagious smile, fun energy, and great routines make exercise fun. Fortunately for us, Karen has been teaching Zumba at the South Franklin Community Center (SFCC) for two years!

As you dance along with Karen you feel as though she has been teaching Zumba forever. But believe it or not, Karen had never stepped into a Zumba class until 2010! And we have her mom to thank for that.

Karen says, “my Zumba Journey started in January of 2010, after moving to Utah and deciding to join a gym near my house. I've never really heard much about Zumba until that day that I came across a Zumba class. I didn't want to walk in at first especially because I didn't know anything about it and didn't want to look silly attempting the moves but my mom insisted and I walked in that room with her. BEST IDEA EVER, I fell in love with Zumba at that moment.”

Can you believe it? Even Karen was afraid of looking silly. But the best thing about Zumba is you don’t have to be a great dancer to do it! Although we know of course, Karen is a great dancer.

Karen decided to dive right in to the Zumba world, she shares with us:
“I continued to go to classes around Orem, I was going to 2 classes a day sometimes and loved every minute of it. Soon after I was a Zumbaddict! But it wasn’t until my favorite instructor Allison moved to California that the idea of becoming an instructor crossed my mind. By 2011 I was officially, a licensed Zumba Fitness Instructor. It has been an amazing journey, I’ve met people from all over the world that love this format and we share the love for dance. I've been part of several fundraisers and events around and I've taught Zumba even while in vacations in other locations with Instructors who have invited me.”

In 2012, thanks to Karen’s friend Annabella, Karen started volunteering at the South Franklin Community Center in summer of 2012. Karen says, “I gave it a shot and started teaching Zumba classes for the kids that summer. Soon after I was teaching regular Zumba classes for adults and I’ve been teaching there ever since.”
Just like people come to Zumba for Karen, Karen loves teaching because she says, “I love the people from the community center, they've been super supportive since the beginning and I’ve grown as an instructor because of them.”

I asked Karen to share her favorite current song to dance to at Zumba and she replied:
“My Zumba classes are full of Latin rhythms, Reggaeton and merengue have to be my favorite, my current favorite song to dance is one by Daddy Yankee called ‘la nueva y la ex’.” Students do have a different favorite, Karen says “a class favorite is ‘show das poderosas’ by Anitta.

We are so grateful that Karen ended up in Utah because she shares, “As many of you know, I was born in Argentina, however I’ve lived in the US for more than half of my life. I've lived in Canada and several states in the US.” Karen also works full time besides teaching her Zumba classes in the afternoon and even though there are days she says she is “super tired, by the end of the day (she) couldn't have it another way and (she is) doing what makes (her) happy!”

Karen’s has a supportive family consisting of her parents, 2 sisters and her “cute little Cockapoo” (does he dance too Karen?). Karen also has “an awesome boyfriend and friends” who support her in everything she does.

Exercise is a passion of Karen’s. She says, “I've become really interested in the fitness industry in the past few years, Zumba changed my life in a positive way and I try everyday my hardest to stay healthy for my students to help them succeed in their goals. Some of my students see me as an inspiration (which is crazy!!) but it pushes me every day to be better and be an example. But seriously who ever hasn't tried Zumba yet...WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR!? it really doesn't feel like you're working out and that's what hooked me from the first moment I walked to a class 4 years ago!”

Yes- this is an action shot of Karen teaching.
Proof you can look great while working out.
There you have it! If Karen doesn’t motivate you to come to one of our classes, I don’t know what will!

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

How I Learned to be a Better Volunteer in Service to America

As a perfectionist, some of my most valuable learning experiences have been learning not to be perfect.  In my personal interactions, I had always put pressure on myself to say the “right” thing, or at the very least- not embarrass myself completely.  Ultimately, I was so worried about how I appeared to others that I paralyzed myself.  A few years ago, a friend taught me that I didn’t need to be perfect.  My friend was beloved.  I watched him interact with people of all age groups and backgrounds and it was inevitable that the person he had talked to would rave about how great he was the next time I saw them. “But you two only talked for ten minutes…” I would think to myself.  BUT I found out his secret. He…. drumroll please… asked questions.

Instead of worrying about how he looked or filling those so-called awkward pauses, he reflected and simply asked another question to whoever he was talking to.  It amazed me that such a simple concept allowed him to truly connect with people.  The art of conversation became demystified and I began to improve my relationships with old and new acquaintances.

Having a great conversation with someone leaves us feeling connected, happy, and content.  These relationships allow us to teach and learn at the same time.  I am fortunate enough to build relationships every day in my work as an AmeriCorps VISTA member for United Way of Utah County.  The AmeriCorps VISTA program has been operating for more than 20 years, and it sends volunteers like me to work for local non-profit organizations for a year.  As Volunteers in Service to America, we work to make an impact on the most critical issues facing our nation- but we do it at the local level.  More than 80,000 AmeriCorps members serve our nation every year.  VISTAs work in all areas, from education and youth, veterans affairs, disaster relief, economic opportunity, health, environment and more.  As a lead VISTA for the South Franklin Community Center, I get to connect with people every day to find out how their projects are going, to see what people like and don’t like, and to learn more about the community I am working in.  

Being a VISTA at United Way of Utah County is the perfect fit for me because we believe that change happens at the local level.  It is our neighbors, friends, and families who have the best ideas for improving our communities and our lives. The South Franklin Community Center’s mission is to promote individual growth and encourage relationship building by providing access to educational programs.  Participation in programs fosters community spirit and increases the quality of life in the neighborhood as networks are built and knowledge is shared.  Basically, we want to improve the southwest Provo community by building relationships in the community. 

As a VISTA, questions have allowed me to find opportunities for funding, meet new community partners, improve programs, and most importantly make new friends in Provo.  Go out and ask a person one question about their lives, we bet you will make a new friend by the end of the day! 


Pictured above from left to right, VISTA Josy, United Way member Rosangela, VISTA Gretchen, and VISTA Kirsten at the Ribbon Cutting Ceremony for the South Franklin Community Center in July 2013.