Le Moyne College's Kate Waltman: Finding the Step Up Moment from Le Moyne College on Vimeo.
As the sound of Top 40 music pulsed through the Rescue Mission’s chapel on Syracuse’s West Side, approximately 30 men, women and children sweated their way through a workout that included multiple squats, jumping jacks and pushups. Among them was a woman named Anna. She joined the group – known as Step Up Moment – to improve her well-being. After completing five sessions, she earned a $50 gift card to purchase nutritious food. Then she did something that brought tears to the eyes of Step Up’s founder, Kate Waltman, ’13, MBA ’16. She shared the food she bought with her neighbors.
That is the true aim of Step Up Moment. It’s not just about bringing healthy lifestyles to one of the nation’s poorest communities – although that is critical; it’s about forging lasting, meaningful connections between individuals in the program, whether participants or volunteers. An avid biker and a former member of Le Moyne’s softball team, Waltman regularly volunteered in service of Syracuse’s homeless population during her time on the Heights. Those experiences opened her eyes to the devastating toll economic insecurity takes on physical and mental health. However, it wasn’t until she was taking a course titled Management and Leadership while pursuing her MBA that Waltman seized upon the idea of blending her dual passions for fitness and serving others.
With the support of professors like Bernard Arogyaswamy, D.B.A., of the Department of Management and Leadership, Waltman began crafting a business plan that serves as the foundation of Step Up Moment. She identified the community’s needs, located and organized resources, and established partnerships with various organizations. In short, Waltman employed the techniques she learned in her coursework to benefit underserved segments of society. Arogyaswamy observed that, like most social entrepreneurs, her desire to improve the lives of the less fortunate comes from within.
“Kate’s work with Step Up Moment aligns well with the Jesuit mission of social justice through action,” he said. “By acknowledging and giving expression to each person’s value, uniqueness and dignity, Kate helps people recognize their full worth. Exercise, as Kate explains, is not purely physical activity, but involves the whole person, a Jesuit ideal.”
Today that Jesuit ideal is manifested in the weekly workouts that Waltman designed with the help of her brother, Guy, a certified personal trainer. Each workout culminates with a special recognition ceremony for people who have been in the program for five, 10, 15, 20 or 25 weeks who, like Anna, receive a gift card for nutritious food. As they exercise using bright orange, green and blue boxes of various sizes, the words “dignity,” “faith” and respect” emblazoned on the walls around them, the program’s participants have varying goals – to lose weight, to meet their neighbors, to focus their minds. Some are homeless; others are refugees; still others are recovering from addiction. What binds them together, though, is their common commitment to the program and to one another. One inaugural member of Step Up Moment, Greg Lake, refers to it as “a blessing.”
“I am so happy to be part of the program,” he said. “It is very good for your health – mentally, physically and spiritually – and it helps bring the community together.”
While Waltman founded Step Up Moment, she is far from the only Dolphin involved. Several members of the Le Moyne community, including faculty and students, join her as volunteers. Among them is former softball player Sarah Harrison ’14.
“It is such a unique way for volunteers to interact directly with the participants at such a personal level,” Harrison said. “Whether you are partnered with an adult focused on weight loss and improving his or her overall health or a child who is energetic, enthusiastic and simply thrilled to be there, the student-athletes (and virtually any volunteer) can put his or her and athletic abilities to use to motivate others to build a healthy lifestyle.”
For her part, Waltman said that it all about helping people like Anna feel their best. Nearly a year after the first Step Up class was held, she still can’t believe an idea that she had as a student has come to fruition.
“At what other school would you be encouraged to establish a program to aid the homeless while pursuing your MBA?” she said. “This is such a testament to the Jesuit mission that I was allowed to undertake this project as part of my classwork. I will forever be grateful for that.”