When Warden Patti Wachtendorf searched for a "holistic" wellness program for the Iowa Women's Correctional Institution, she turned to the Y. Personal trainers now run fitness classes in Mitchellville that help women learn to be healthy.
On one side of the room, four wellness instructors from the Walnut Creek YMCA stood, wondering what they had gotten themselves into.
On the other side sat 20 women – women who had decided they needed to their change their lifestyles and that exercise was one way towards living a healthy life. That, despite the fact all were serving various criminal sentences at the Iowa Correctional Institute for Women.
“There we were with 20 women just staring at us,” said Rachel Kelderman, health and fitness director with the Walnut Creek Y. “They were naturally cautious, wanting to know why we had decided to lead this course.
“It took a bit of time for them to warm up to us.”
Make no mistake about it, these 20 women wanted to be a part of a wellness pilot program that the Walnut Creek Y partnered with the correctional facility in Mitchellville. More than 170 applicants applied to be a part of the 90-day pilot program.
Once a week, Kelderman and other Walnut Creek wellness instructors would travel to Mitchellville to led the women in a two-hour class. A majority of the classroom time was consumed with the offenders doing yoga, kettle ball, strength training – even Zumba. In the off-days from the class, the participants were granted gym privileges where they were required to workout at least four days a week.
When the pilot program ended shortly before Christmas 2011, 16 of the women completed the course. A combined total of 168 pounds and 110 percent of body fat were lost. Three women were able to eliminate medications for such symptoms as blood pressure, pain and psy as a result of the wellness program.
“The women reported much improved moods and reduced stress levels,” Kelderman said. “They genuinely seemed excited about exercising and saw both physical and mental results from the program.”
The program was such a success that a second program was held this spring with many of the same results.
“Their attitudes changed – they had more self-confidence and self-esteem,” said Warden Patti Wachtendorf. “These women felt good about themselves. They did some hard workouts and they were proud of themselves.”
The offenders who completed the wellness program weren’t the only ones that benefitted. Attitudes have changed dramatically since that first day, not only for the offenders, but the Walnut Creek Y wellness instructors as well.
“I cried at the graduation ceremony we had for these women,” Kelderman said. “It wasn’t because of what we were doing for them, but what we got out of the experience. It was very rewarding.”