The Valparaiso YMCA is full of great, heard-working people. And an organization is only as good as the people in it. Lee Baker is a wonderful person that calls the YMCA her second home.
Baker was born in Raliegh, NC and then moved to South Bend and grew up there. She was an active kid, very involved in soccer and other activities. What got her to continue with physical fitness was her mom.
"In 8th grade, mom made me go to an aerobics class at the South Bend YMCA. I didn't want to go but I ended up loving it," Baker said. "I decided that's what I wanted to do. When I was 16 I found a woman in South Bend who mentored me and I became a fitness instructor. That's how my passion for the Y began."
Baker's father was on the Board of Directors for the South Bend YMCA and so her entire family was very involved.
Baker went to college at IU Bloomington and received her degree in Sports Science. After she graduated, Baker moved to Germany and taught school at an Army base for two years.
"I got homesick and came to Valpo. planned to spend summer there and have been there for 20 years," Baker said.
Baker got into the YMCA and her first job was at the Portage Township YMCA. She worked in fitness and membership there, and then moved to the Duneland YMCA and got even more involved.
"I did all kinds of things there. I was a personal trainer, I was in membership, and other things. I just loved it. What I loved what that I had the opportunity to impact lives. you could really tell that the impact was there," Baker said.
In 2008, Baker came to the Valpo YMCA. It was the year before they moved into their new building. Baker was the Wellness Director at the time and was able to be part of the move. She was quickly promoted to Senior Director of Programs where she oversees sports, aquatics, and wellness at the Y. Of the many programs at the Y, Baker is quite proud of a few in particular: the Livestrong at the YMCA Program and the Diabetes Prevention Program.
The first program is group exercise program for cancer survivors. It's 12-weeks long, free, and open to the public.
"We know that it can be financially devastating to the family so we wanted to remove that barrier," Baker said. "We've served over 100 survivors and we're getting ready to serve our 14th and 15th groups! It's so impactful. It makes a difference in their lives and it's really is touching. A neat bi-product of that is that they form relationships with each other so it becomes so much more than exercising."
The Diabetes Prevention Program is a collaboration through the YMCA of the USA and CDC. It's a program for people who are at risk for diabetes.
"One in three people are at risk and most people don't know they are at risk," Baker said. "Participants meet with a lifestyle coach and they create goals - reduce body weight by 7% and increase physical activity to 150 minutes per week. We want to educate the community and partner with other establishments in the community."
The program is still in process and is planned to launch in early 2015.
What helps the Valparaiso YMCA reach out to so many people and provide them with great services is their partnership with Methodist Hospitals.
"It's been neat to be a part of that," Baker said. "Methodist has been able to help develop programs and seminars for the community. With their help we can offer lots of free screenings and this helps people to become aware and get educated. This is what makes the Y different. We're more than a gym and swim. We have programs that help educate people on many different aspects of health and well being. we're very inclusive and involved with the community. This makes it exciting to come to work everyday and put my skills to work."
Outside of work, Baker serves on the Porter County Substance Abuse Council, she's a member of the advisory board for Avalon Springs Health Campus, she's involved in Calvary Church in Valpo, and she loves to spend time with her two kids.
As a busy and physically active woman, Baker must have words of wisdom to help us stay positive and healthy during our hectic lives.
"Wellness means different things to different people. It's important to find things in life that you and enjoy and keep you active with other people. Find something that you truly enjoy doing. Whether that's riding a bike, gardening, or fitness. And lean on others. Don't try to do it all yourself. Seek the help of others who are looking to lead a healthy and balanced life," Baker said.