Q&A w/ Lauren Sibley, Program Coordinator at Bull City Fit

Q: What do you do at Bull City Fit and how did you get to where you are today?

A: I’m the program coordinator for Bull City Fit (BCF), which means I do all the behind-the-scenes work and am on site whenever we’re open. I’m also in charge of creating and maintaining community partnerships (such as what we’re doing with Y.O.G.A. for Youth N.C. right now), as well as planning and executing all the programming. My goal is ultimately to make sure everything runs as smoothly as possible. I started working here in May right after I graduated from Duke University. I knew I wanted to be involved with community health in some way, and when I happened upon the position and started doing research on it, I found it was a perfect fit. I love it–it’s such a strong program already and to be a part of making it even better and more impactful is really meaningful.

Can you talk about what Bull City Fit (BCF) is and what purpose it serves?

Absolutely! BCF is a free fitness and nutrition program for children ages 5 to 18 who are currently patients of Duke’s Healthy Lifestyles Clinic, which is a multidisciplinary obesity treatment program for kids at Duke Hospital. Our focus is involving and integrating the whole family in making healthy lifestyle changes for the sake of the children. As you know, it’s so much harder to tackle these challenges alone, especially as a child when there’s so many things out of your control (i.e., what groceries are in the house, what dinner looks like). Having family on the same page is really helpful. That means we provide programming not only for the patient, but also for their parents, siblings, grandparents–whoever lives in the house is encouraged to come. Obesity is such a complex health condition, and we know the condition isn’t all that separate from social factors. What’s really cool about this program is there’s a whole team of different specialists to help these families address various factors. We’ve got therapists, medical specialists, nutritionists–we take a really thorough approach.

How did you first find out about Y.O.G.A. for Youth N.C.?

Luckily, the partnership between BCF and Y.O.G.A. for Youth N.C. was already in place when I came on the scene in May of 2017. By then, we’d been partners for nearly an entire year, and the benefits of the program were already so obvious that it was a no-brainer to continue it into this year.

What do you see as the benefits or potential benefits of the Y.O.G.A. for Youth N.C. partnership for BCF clients and their families?

One of my first days at BCF actually overlapped with the last Y.O.G.A. for Youth class of the first year. I remember they handed out evaluations to the kids and I was helping one boy fill it out, and one of the questions was something like “Has yoga helped you in your everyday life?” This 8-year-old boy went quiet for a second, then said, “Yeah! Wait, yoga has really helped me. When I’m bullied on the playground [for my weight], the comments go right through me! They don’t hurt me like they used to.” The fact that the workshops he attended–he had only gone to two at this point–had that profound of an impact on him was a really poignant moment for me. The effect on the individual is really apparent, and that’s one of the main benefits. Another benefit of having our partnership with Y.O.G.A. for Youth is that it’s accessible enough for family members of all types to participate in. Sometimes, with activities like, say, soccer, some of these moms might not want to run around and play a full game with these children. What’s been great about Y.O.G.A. for Youth is that many parents can join in, and want to join in, and that naturally brings together the entire family and accommodates that sense of unity and support.

I also want to add that the issue of bullying is especially tangible for this group. A lot of the kids that come to us are experiencing common obesity-related bullying at school, so providing them with the tools to deal with that is really useful and important. Issues of self-esteem often come along with obesity, and Y.O.G.A. for Youth has helped both kids and parents–since many of the parents are also struggling with weight issues– improve their self-image. One of the activities we’ve done in classes is to go around in a circle and have each person say, “I am strong,” or “I am flexible” or “I am grounded.” Seeing these kids in the spotlight, and defining themselves as one of these positive traits which might not come to their minds at first, is really great.

What have you witnessed in the weekly Y.O.G.A. for Youth classes with Bull City Fit? How is class received? Have you gotten any feedback from participants?

We definitely have a regular crew of parents, siblings and grandparents, many of whom have been coming since last year. Having those returning people is a testament to the efficacy of the program, and the classes are always full, so I know the yoga is being well-received! It’s always awesome when a class is over and a parent comes up to me to say, “Oh, that was great!” That’s when we know we’re making a difference.

What excites you most so far about what you’ve seen with Y.O.G.A. for Youth this year?

What excites me the most is definitely the fact that it’s equally engaging kids and parents. I just love seeing parents being active with their kids.

What do you ultimately hope the partnership with Y.O.G.A. for Youth will achieve?

Honestly, providing the largest impact to our families is ultimately what BCF is here to do. We want to support families as much as we can. And if that includes giving them tools like yoga, which empowers kids and parents to make these changes together and view themselves as strong individuals–which they are–then that’s success. We absolutely love our partnership with Y.O.G.A. for Youth. They have given so much of their time and effort to BCF, and it really is making a difference. We’re so excited for the future. –Courtney Cho