A Shared Journey to Better Health at the Dee Brown Library

“C’mon! You ain’t gonna get this at Big Fitness! They’re gonna charge you fifty dollars!”

Harlem, our library fitness coach, sounds like a pro. He yells encouragement and funny comments to keep the class moving and happy. It’s working. Everybody is smiling, sassy, out of breath, or all three.

We follow him across the yard outside the Dee Brown Library to start some simple strength and cardio moves. Some of us are faster, some slower. Our class is diverse, including a ten-year-old girl, young adults, and middle aged folks. All are welcome. Harlem will help everybody take the exercises at the right pace.

“I do it my way, you do it your way, but we’re gonna get it done!”  When he says it, we believe him.  We step a little faster.

A fitness success story leads to a passion for helping others

To look at Harlem Wilson, no one would ever know that he had once struggled with health issues.

Now, he looks like a weightlifter, with huge biceps and the kind of healthy glow that only comes from regular exercise. When he teaches “Harlem’s Boot Camp,” he lifts 30 pounds for curls while the rest of us lift our one- or two-pound weights.

A Saturday morning fitness class is a unique contribution from a man who also happens to be the Assistant Branch Manager of the library, but Harlem’s personal history motivates him to help.

“I started working out five years ago when I weighed 364,” Harlem says. “I knew I had to do something different. I didn’t want the health problems that were coming.  So I started my own workouts for 30 minutes, 3 times a week. About a year and a half in, I had dropped 130 pounds.”

Harlem’s dedication to helping others is energizing, and it comes through in every minute of his class. “I want to share what I’ve learned,” he says.  “It’s just something to help you feel better.”

Like all the other health and fitness offerings at the Dee Brown Library, Harlem’s class is free. And we get to do it together, for mutual support.

In a world where many of us spend hours sitting at desks, health and fitness are more important than ever. It can be hard to find the time to work out, and gyms with trainers are expensive.  In what can feel like an uphill battle to stay healthy, support from other people helps us stay motivated.

Those encouraging people are on staff at the Dee Brown Library. This CALS branch offers a number of health-oriented classes free of charge to the community, including Harlem’s Boot Camp, cooking and nutrition classes, and a walking group.

Cooking and nutrition class from an expert, served with a side of hospitality

This Saturday, the cooking class begins one hour after we finish Harlem’s Boot Camp.

Samantha Toro, our instructor, has years of experience in nutrition and cooking education, having worked for several major organizations that offer similar community programs. Her expertise shows when she teaches the “Jams and Jellies” class. Her instructions are lucid, and when a class member asks whether a recipe can be altered for a diabetic diet, she knows exactly how to answer to ensure food safety.

Samantha’s class shows the polish and depth brought by a true professional in the field. All the ingredients are set out neatly. She explains how the canning process works. With her knowledge and poise, combined with the well-equipped teaching kitchen in the library, we might as well have walked into a cooking show.

Attendees will often get to take home samples of their own work. The previous class in this series was about pickling, and there is a mouth-watering jar of pickles waiting for one of our class members.

Class is interactive. We gather around the steaming pots, pouring in the colorful ingredients, having fun slicing and mashing things up.  There is a feeling of togetherness in the air. It’s the magic of food, the ancient ritual of coming together to make something delicious that also sustains life. We all need this kind of community, but many of us don’t experience it often, either because we are too busy to cook with others or because we live alone. But here it is, the gift of group hospitality, an unexpected and welcome benefit of cooking class.


Walking group takes pleasant steps toward more energy and wellbeing

Walking has been popular as a gentle route to fitness for years. Many people who have other physical limitations can still walk. With some company and conversation, a walking club makes exercise feel a lot easier.

Karen Guthrie, Adult Programmer, started the Dee Brown Library’s Walking Group, which currently walks at 6pm three times a week.

“Dee Brown Library is fortunate to have a lovely park right here as part of our SWLR community center complex,” Karen says.  “Amazingly, walkers often tell me they didn’t know it was here until they joined our walking group.”

The sidewalk winds through trees, surprisingly private and peaceful here only yards from the library. Karen’s three dogs trundle around on the ends of their leashes, sniffing the edges of the path. The walkers share stories, talk about mutual interests, and exchange information about new local discoveries. Before long, we’ve finished our trails and covered 3 miles at a rate everyone could handle.

“My goal is to enhance the lives of our community members,” Karen says. “And the walking group is one way to do that.”

We can see as we walk that Karen’s community knows and loves her. A young teen bikes by, gripping the handlebars with one hand and holding a book in the other.  “Ms. Karen!” he says. “Is the library open?”

She calls him by name and stops to talk. It’s clear that Karen has spent time with people at the library, as an invested and caring friend. This is part of what the library has to offer. It’s not just an institution, but an integral part of the community where the staff knows its patrons and reaches out to be a supportive part of their lives.

We finish our walk. The dogs are content and ready to jump back in the car. Feeling post-exercise good, with better circulation and freer breathing, we make our goodbyes and drive away from the Dee Brown Library.

Summer twilight is just stealing over the park. Thanks to the library, its dedicated staff, and these free programs to help and encourage the community, the world seems like a more caring and hopeful place tonight. We’re all in this together.

For more on these programs and many other community offerings at CALS, see the online event schedule at cals.org or call the Dee Brown Library at (501) 568-7494.