Personal Fitness Professional Magazine Summer 2023
Published June 19th, 2023

Be the reason someone feels seen, heard, and supported.
By Julio A. Salado, NSCA-RCPT*D, NREMT-B

As fitness professionals, we are uniquely qualified to contribute to society in ways that are both personally and professionally rewarding. In this article, I will share how to begin your journey as a humanitarian, and how to use your skill set to effect positive change in the world.

If you ask a fitness professional why they have chosen their career path, chances are they’ll describe wanting to help their clients to live heathier and happier lives. The same passion for helping others, along with excellent listening skills and the ability to be objective and non-judgmental translate perfectly into the role of volunteer or humanitarian worker.

I believe as role models in both the gym and the community, we are uniquely positioned to bring public awareness and to motivate others to support non-profits, charities, and fundraisers.

There are many causes for us to contribute to – ranging from food insecurity, homelessness, substance abuse, suicide prevention, racism, women’s rights and gun violence, to name only a few. The root causes of these issues vary, but many can be attributed to social determinants such as poverty, unequal access to health care, lack of education, racism, and structural inequities.

Getting involved with an organization, no matter how big or small, allows for growth on so many levels. I’ll share a recent volunteer experience that opened my eyes to events shaping the community where I was raised. As a person of color and first generation Dominican, I am painfully aware of our nation’s epidemic of gun violence.

According to a new study published in April 2023 by the Kaiser Family Foundation:

“. . . nearly one in five American adults say they have a family member who was killed by a gun, including suicides. People of color were more likely to report witnessing gun violence or having family members who were killed by guns. More than one-third of Black adults said they had a family member who was killed by a gun, compared with 17% of White respondents and 18% of Hispanic adults who participated in the study.”

Source https://www.kff.org/other/poll-finding/americans-experiences-with-gun-related-violence-injuries-and-deaths/

I asked myself what I could do. Like many, I felt hopeless and frustrated. Then I saw a post from a small community activist group on my social media. I decided to take the initiative and contacted them to ask how I could support their efforts. This May was my first experience volunteering with the Annual Mother’s Day Walk for Peace in Boston, sponsored by the Louis D. Brown Peace Institute. Their mission is to serve as a center of healing, teaching, and learning for families and communities impacted by murder, trauma, grief and loss.

The first step in my support for the group was to share their services as well as my intended participation in their upcoming event with my social network. A few weeks before the event, a handful of volunteers engaged with the businesses along the walk route to ask if they could display fliers announcing the event. At first, I felt awkward; however, I followed the lead of volunteers with more experience, and soon felt more comfortable. We had fun, and I felt part of the team by opening up and being myself.

On the event day, the participants were provided with an energizing warm-up by a local fitness trainer before heading out on the five-mile route. The attendees were an incredibly diverse group of all different ages, races, ethnicities, disabilities, genders, sexual orientations, religions, and cultures. During the event, I felt a mix of sadness and hope as I walked along with families and friends of victims of gun violence. Along the way, it was inspiring to see many activists and volunteers, religious and political leaders, and members of law enforcement all come together to walk as a united front against gun violence.

What I learned from my experience:

  1. Non-profits cannot do their work without community partners, donors and volunteers.
  2. Volunteering is a great opportunity to learn new skills and build upon ones you already have including communication, organization, patience, and learning to ask for help.
  3. You will inevitably connect with others who can become mentors or at least part of your professional network.
  4. The time invested pays off in improved mental health and a sense of well-being.

If you feel you do not have time to volunteer, consider using your social media platform to raise awareness about a cause that interests you. For example, I use my own social media to share my experience with clinical depression. I also share mental health resources, especially for those in low-income communities. My objective is to help end the stigma of mental illness and of asking for help when struggling with mental health challenges. We never know who sees our posts, and it’s always possible that what we share will help someone just when they needed to see it most.

A few other causes that are important to me are health equity, food insecurity and homelessness. To this end, I’ve volunteered at food pantries, and a local warming center during the winter months. Each experience has brought something new to my understanding of the human experience. It has made me more tolerant of others and has expanded my circle of influence. I have met many people I would never have known otherwise, and I’ve learned that most people really want to help.

People who are passionate about your cause will want to share your mission with everyone they know, encouraging others to get involved and motivated to give. The internet is a great resource to learn about and spread awareness of causes that are important to you. I encourage you to explore the opportunities and find the one you know is right for you.

Like working to improve sports performance, practice is the key to volunteering and becoming a humanitarian. It will be a rewarding experience for you, as well as for the people you help.

Coach Julio

To learn more about the Louis D. Brown Peace Institute: https://ldbpeaceinstitute.org/

Read about my April 2024 humanitarian volunteer trip to Ukraine: CLICK HERE

Read the article in Professional Fitness Professional Magazine: CLICK HERE