Walk around Lakeshore’s campus, and you will see it is not a typical fitness center. This premier facility is a “third place” for wellness center members, elite athletes, and youth and adults with physical disabilities.
Visitors might see wheel-chair rugby (Murderball) practice in the main gym, a senior water aerobics class in the pool, or an ex-military amputee tackling the climbing wall.
This mixture of young and old, athletic and “average Joe” inspired the Daxko team to dig deeper. What is the secret sauce of Lakeshore’s success? What is it like managing a fitness/training center for a special needs base? Jen Remick, Membership Director, shared her experience with me over lunch:
ANNE: Your facility is simply gorgeous! What was your design inspiration? How does serving a group with unique needs factor into design?
JEN: Our philosophy with design is the same as our service philosophy, “Be welcome. Be accessible.” We had to think about all the different people interacting with us: athletes, families, kids, seniors. In essence we have to design “smart” for those with disabilities. For example, we incorporated color contrast into the carpets for the weight training areas. This helps members with sight limitations know which area is which. We try to walk around the facility from different perspectives and look for opportunities to make it friendlier.
ANNE: What kinds of different perspectives?
JEN: Someone recovering from an injury may have a hard time walking from one area to another. We think about what we could do to help that person be more independent and supported, such as placing handrails along the walls. But, at the end of the day, everyone wants to be in a warm, open and clean space to exercise, so those design elements are also important!
ANNE: Your members love you, your staff loves working there, and everyone attending events loves the experience. What is in your secret sauce?
JEN: First, our commitment to our mission. It is our capstone; where we go if we are not what a decision should be. I am always asking, “How does that relate to our mission statement?” Our staff has a genuine connection with our mission statement, and I believe our members do too! Another (ingredient) is listening to members. That simple. Just listen and follow up consistently.
ANNE: How do you manage follow-up, especially across all those members?
JEN: Our process is always changing, but now we do a few things. We have a weekly staff meeting where we divide up all the member/participant comments and follow up with them immediately. It is so important members feel their comments matter. We also partner with you guys to get monthly surveys so we can keep a pulse on our base.
ANNE: Any other ingredients in your secret sauce?
JEN: Our Board and President believe our staff is a true asset. I am able to invest in staff development and hire great people. One thing I encourage is for staff to get “mobile.” They need to walk around, talk to people, and get to know members on a personal level. Plus, our center is huge and we need to make sure everything is okay at all times.
ANNE: What kind of training is important for your staff?
JEN: They need to be bought into our core values: Create Opportunities, Raise Expectations, Passion, and Integrity.
ANNE: Can you give an example of staff using core values to create a “wow” experience?
JEN: Every day! My staff is so awesome. And these experiences are all over the place, such as one of our girls in our wheel-chair basketball program. She has a whole network of friends now and is competing in a team sport. We also had a gentleman that volunteered for us, and he could not believe the positive feedback he received. He was so emotional because he was able to make an impact.
ANNE: How does raising expectations factor into a center that serves both athletes and people with disabilities?
JEN: People are people. They don’t like to exercise, or they will get comfortable doing the same old thing. Staff should encourage members to PUSH THEMSELVES and try something new. Exposure to different programs and routines is important for everyone we serve. For example, the other day I saw a member bring a friend to walk on the track. Now, I am happy she is using the track, but I encouraged her to also get outside and try a walking event with her whole family.
The Lakeshore Foundation is a 501©3 non-profit organization dependent on the support of individuals and corporations in the community. It is located on a 45-acre campus in Homewood, AL, and is an official U.S. Olympic and Paralympic training site.