In the previous post, we discussed how the Orfalea Foundation’s interest in parent engagement led to the funding of a workplace wellness program called Project ACT. Project Manager Seth Nickinson wants people to understand that workplace wellness is just one facet of Project ACT. “One of the reasons Orfalea funded this was to increase the wellness consciousness among families, because we’re reaching children and students through the School Food Initiative, the Preschool Food & Healthy Habits Initiative, and the REACH Youth Development program, but if they bump up against unhealthy habits at home, it doesn’t make sense. Most parents work. Could we help some large workplaces develop a ‘wellness consciousness?’”

The Santa Maria Bonita School District started with the Move Across America Challenge, which divided the district into four teams that competed to engage in activities equivalent to walking from Santa Barbara to New York City and back.  Project ACT helped with online recording mechanisms, so people could chart their miles. Participants used the website to see how their team was doing on a Google Map. People began exercising and logging their mile equivalents, and, as hoped, some started feeling competitive and egging each other on. Project ACT awarded bonus credit for those who exercised with family or friends. 402 people, about half of the district’s employees, logged miles on the site.

“I can tell it’s a success because people are so eager to share stories with me about what they are doing at their schools. Our activity competition (walk across America) was so well received that we are doing it again.”

Margaret Ontiveros, Santa Maria-Bonita School District

It only took about three weeks for a team to win. Nickinson points out, “Those 400 people walked over 6,000 miles; another 2700 hours of physical activity. About half of the miles and activity were done with other people, and about 20% of it was done with a kid. So, something very concrete happened. And when it was all done, they were excited to do it again. Participants won prizes, and members of the winning team got a free meal at the school café, which has been a longtime participant in the Orfalea Foundation School Food Initiative, providing scratch-cooked healthy food.”


Coworkers encourage one another to eat right and stay active.

Nickinson is encouraged by the outcome of this pilot program, but is quick to remind us that the goals of Project ACT go beyond a single successful event. “The goal is that the district would do a movement challenge twice a year from now on. We can call the first one a success, but real success comes when these movement challenges – or something similar that the employees want to do – are just an everyday part of the culture in this district.

The grant-funded pilot encouraged experimentation. Santa Maria Bonita School District tried subsidizing fitness classes, and discovered that these things are hard to arrange; where, when, who, etc.? But they offered Zumba and Yoga classes for six weeks to see if it would work. One of the side benefits of offering convenient fitness classes, which were requested by a number of teachers and staff, was the clear message that the district CARES about the employees’ health. Moreover, students witness teachers and school staff participating in the classes, and this serves to normalize exercise and movement activities as part of everyday life. All adults are role models to children, for better or worse.

In part three of this three part series, we’ll see how the Chumash Casino worked with Project ACT, and get Seth Nickinson’s advice for starting YOUR workplace wellness program.

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