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Parents Get Fit, Come Together with Zumba

Low-cost classes supported by Kaiser Permanente improve community health.

There was a loud scratching thud sound as the music kicked in, but soon there was toe tapping, shoelace tightening, and Beyoncé and Pitbull blaring from the speakers.

A group of roughly 45 women made their way to the floor of the school cafeteria, scooting past the salad bar and lunch tables carefully folded off to the side. They greeted one another with smiles and quick hugs.

And then it was time to dance.

Two times a week the women gather for a 60-minute Zumba class that starts right after school begins at Meadow Homes Elementary School in Concord.  Parents can drop off their kids then stay, get fit, and socialize. But the class is open to anyone in the community. It features Latin-style dances such as merengue, salsa, samba, and mambo set to upbeat music alongside core-strengthening exercises such as squats and leg lifts.

The class is supported by a Healthy Eating Active Living (HEAL) Zone Grant from Kaiser Permanente Community Benefit. It’s part of a targeted, three-year effort to encourage people in low-income communities to eat better and move more as part of daily life to increase health and decrease obesity. Meadow Homes Elementary is located in a HEAL Zone and serves roughly 940 students with 19 different cultures represented among the student body.

Ana Villalobos, HEAL Zone manager, thought that Zumba would be a good fit for the community. The classes started at Meadow Homes and have spread to a total of nine sites across the Monument Corridor with three other school sites in the works.

The classes have been an important addition to the community.

“For people who want to work out here in the community, this is their only option,” said Villalobos. “There are no affordable gym options in the Monument. Here, they get exercise and camaraderie.”

Classes at Meadow Homes cost $2 each, with $1 going to support the Parent Teacher Association and $1 going to the instructors who have been certified as HEAL Zone Zumba instructors.

“These classes are so important to the school and the families,” said Maria Flores, PTA coordinator for the school. “The money raised helps for field trips and whatever the teachers need.”

“Health is so important for the community,” said Lorena Cruz, one of the Zumba instructors who teaches at Meadow Homes. “I live in this community and I love that I can support other people in their health goals and help make a difference.”

The school has also adopted a healthy outlook as well, pledging to only serve water during school events—ditching sugar-laden sodas and fruit drinks.

But the Zumba and friendship is what keeps Karina Villavalle coming. The mother of two fourth graders and a kindergartener, Villavalle started coming to the Zumba classes earlier this year and has already dropped two dress sizes.

“It is very good. But more than the exercise, I like being part of a group, making friends, and being involved.”