Fitness ministry became model for other parishes
St. Genevieve in Slidell has hit pay dirt with a new ministry. On any given Tuesday or Wednesday night, 65 or more dance enthusiasts of all ages cut loose for an hour-long, cardiovascular dance workout in the parish center.
Instructors Denise Younger, her sister Louvinia Hunt and others lead a multi-generational crowd who hoot and holler while dancing zydeco, country, hip hop, cha-cha, traditional line dances and contemporary dances such as the Wobble.
“We start off slowly, start raising the heart rate and then come down slowly,” said Gerry Seymour, ministry organizer with husband Reggie, who is a permanent deacon, about the ministry that began in April 2012.
The ministry formed in response to parishioners discussing health ailments – ranging from reducing cholesterol or blood pressure, needing to lose weight or relieving back or joint problems. But it has attracted people ages 4 to 85 and everyone in between who want to have fun while exercising. It’s not unusual for participants to arrive before class starts and stay after so they know the steps when the music plays.
Good time, and good for you
“For one hour, we afford them an opportunity to forget all that ails them and come out and have a good time,” Deacon Seymour said.
“We serve two purposes,” Gerry Seymour added. “We’re trying to get them more physically fit to become stronger, more mobile, have more endurance and strengthen their heart. ... People come here every week and feel as though their cholesterol is down, their blood pressure is down. I’m not saying this is the sole reason for everything, but it’s making them feel a lot better. They come and are happy and leave happier.”
The Seymours had participated in a line dancing class at a nearby Methodist Church and, when that church couldn’t expand their popular class to another night, the Seymours were tapped to inquire about expanding the ministry at their parish, St. Genevieve.
“I brought the idea to Father Roel (Lungay, pastor), and he said there had been line dancing here before,” Gerry Seymour said, so it was an easy sell.
Seymour designed the shirts with the motto, “Keep Moving, Get Stronger, Live Longer.” Participation grew so quickly that within six months, a second night was added at St. Genevieve. When a Wednesday night class was introduced at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Lacombe, 84 people showed up the first night, and it continues to grow strong.
All ages enjoy the fun
“They bring their husbands, kids and grandkids,” Gerry Seymour said. “That’s what I like about this. This is family night, and the kids love it as much as we do. And, the faith community in this area has come together for this ministry.”
“I like line dancing,” said Gloria Hoffmann, the oldest member of the class who turns 85 on July 23. She attends with friends and sometimes brings her daughter-in-law and other family. “It’s a lot of fun, and it’s a good workout.”
Guest speakers are invited to discuss diet, exercise and nutrition during class, and participants can share nutrition or exercise tips they find. Water is provided for participants.
The fitness ministry has become the perfect medicine for Bayou Liberty residents whose lives and homes were ravaged by Hurricane Katrina.
An added boon from the classes has been raising money to tackle needed renovations in the church hall to make it attractive for wedding receptions and parties. (Each class costs $2.) Already, the men’s and ladies’ restrooms have been renovated, and a new sound system with speakers and 20 round tables have been purchased.
“It’s just little things, one thing at a time,” Gerry Seymour said. “We can’t do it all at once.”
Other planned amenities include replacing the flooring and leveling the building. The kitchen was renovated after Hurricane Katrina.
“If we could also offer a nicely renovated hall (in addition the new church and tree-lined bayou setting), we could attract more parishioners and save them some money.”
To celebrate a year milestone, the fitness ministry recently held a Bayou Bash.
“We wanted to thank all of our participants for sticking with us for a year,” Gerry Seymour said.
Other advantages of the ministry have emerged.
“It’s a form of evangelization for us,” Deacon Seymour said. “As a result of the ministry, we have six people who have joined the church and another five who have expressed an interest.”
“It also helps their mind,” Gerry Seymour said. “You have to think about the steps. It gives them a chance to use their brain and not sit around at home.”
One participant recently had brain surgery and returned to class within four weeks.
Gwen Navarre, a cradle Catholic at St. Genevieve, had five bypasses on Oct. 10, 2012 and was back five months later.
“It gives me a lot of energy,” Navarre said. “I’m doing more now because of this class. It makes me feel so good. I feel like God is with me all the way.”
“These people have courage to come out here and forget about everything else,” Gerry Seymour said.