“Today we have a battle against obesity that’s the war, we [trainers] are the warriors and as long as the epidemic is present we are going to be here and we are going to feed from that need, in order the strengthen the program,” said Rivera.
By LAUREN REYES
EL NUEVO SOL
As a fitness trainer with the 100 Citizens Program, kinesiology student Jhennylyn Rivera uses her experience in physical fitness education towards helping underserved communities improve their health and well being.
Initial requirements for the kinesiology option at California State University Northridge involved completing a total of 150 hours as a fitness trainer with the 100 Citizens Program through an internship program. By the end of the internship, Rivera had surpassed the requirement and completed close to 300 hours with citizens of the San Fernando Valley.
Currently as a senior at CSUN, Rivera is a recreational services leader at El Cariso Park in Sylmar, California. The Los Angeles Department of Parks and Recreation hired her for this permanent position at El Cariso Park.
Rivera’s philosophy and approach can be expressed by the following, “Our goal is to share what we have learned in school with our community and to promote a healthy lifestyle to the citizens,” said Rivera. “The great need for these kinds of resources in the community empowers us to get the program going,” she said.
The 100 Citizens Program, which began in the city of San Fernando in 2010, provides participants with free exercise and health education under the guidance of student interns like Jhennylyn.
According to Rivera, the most common health issues participants struggle with are diabetes and obesity. Often times these two issues intertwine as obesity increases the risk of developing diabetes and visa versa, as stated by the 2007 Los Angeles County Health survey.
Diabetes rates among Latinas/os are the highest amongst other ethnic groups in Los Angeles County as noted in the survey conducted by the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health. Additionally, households below the federal poverty level experience a greater increase in developing diabetes.
“Today we have a battle against obesity that’s the war, we [trainers] are the warriors and as long as the epidemic is present we are going to be here and we are going to feed from that need, in order the strengthen the program,” she said.
The 100 Citizens Program at the San Fernando Recreation Park, offers an educational course specialized in diabetes prevention where participants engage in group discussion about meeting realistic goals and moderating diet and exercise plans to fit individual health needs.
The free fitness program has flourished since its onset and is now offered in four different park locations residing in the cities of San Fernando, Canoga Park, Sylmar, and La Crescenta.
According to the 2010 Census about 92.5 percent of the population in city of San Fernando are of Latina/o origin. Furthermore, as of 2008-2012, 35.9 percent of residents classify themselves as foreign-born and 18 percent of the San Fernando residents live in poverty.
Retiree, Yvonne Rodriguez, acknowledges how the support given by trainers like Jhennylyn makes the workout process easier. Also, the accessibility of the program enables those who come from low-income backgrounds the ability to live a healthier lifestyle.
“I love that it’s better than a gym. I didn’t know what I was doing half of the time and I couldn’t afford the trainers but here its individual. They [trainers] come up to you and modify the exercises; they are patient and explain it to you. They cheer us on and give us inspiration,” said Rodriguez. “A lot of us live on fixed incomes, its very beneficial to us financially.”
Rivera values the importance of providing assistance to the public through free access and she has noted considerable improvements in the lives of these residents. The citizens are the most important aspect in developing and expanding the program.
“The program would not be there without our participants,” said Rivera. “The good relationship and comradery between our students, our leaders, and our participants keeps our program going.”
Originally from the Philippines, Rivera herself has endured financial hardships in order to pursue her academic career.
At the age of 16, Rivera and her family immigrated to the United States from the Philippines after her mother and father visited the country as tourists.
Rivera did not initially want to move to the U.S. as a teenager. Her mother made decision to make the move in 2007 and obtained an employee visa. It wasn’t until another couple of years until the family obtained permanent residency.
At the onset of her studies, Rivera allocated her student loans towards her family’s business in order for it to succeed. She supported her student finances through working several part time jobs including being a music instructor to children.
Rivera is now in charge of organizing various new fitness programs, as a recreational services leader for the Sylmar community in addition to managing new interns and aiding new participants transition into the program.
After her undergraduate career she plans on pursuing a masters degree in either physical or occupational therapy, while continuing to work for Los Angeles County Parks and Recreation. She has currently worked there for about one year.
Rivera has also recently implemented additional fitness programs for other groups in the community such as a chair exercise class and a walking program to aid seniors in promoting balance and to prevent falling.
She hopes to continue to initiate and implement new ideas for Sylmar community members and is currently promoting a children’s fitness class.