Alright – so today we’ve got the honor of introducing you to Jennifer Lawson. We think you’ll enjoy our conversation, we’ve shared it below.
Jennifer, thanks for taking the time to share your stories with us today Let’s kick things off with talking about how you serve the underserved, because in our view this is one of the most important things the small business community does for society – by serving those who the giant corporations ignore, small business helps create a more inclusive and just world for all of us.
I began working with Seniors because I saw how much they are neglected within the wellness community. Most companies focus on kids or those with money. There are hardly any fitness classes in nursing homes or assisted living facilities unless the residents are paying exorbitant amounts in rent. ($12,000 a month in Balfour Communities)
So people over 65 living on social security or minimal retirement get nothing but the basics. Nothing but basic healthcare, common medications and federally funded food. They get meals served to them of the same quality as school lunches. They are not taught healthier ways to eat or provided with healthy food options. They are not provided opportunities to exercise in different ways. They are not offered wellness education or spiritual services, only religious practice. They don’t get to experience things like Aromatherapy, meditation or massage.
I really wanted to change that.
So I started offering Wellness Education classes to the elderly in low income assisted living communities. I compiled the information and printed handouts at home in my spare time. I offered classes to Communities like Castle Country, Oberon House, Applewood Our House, Almost Like Home, Rocky Mountain Assisted Living, Lewis Court, Canyon Gate, and Eaton Senior Community. Volunteering my own time to come and talk about natural wellness with Seniors.
I struggled finding ways to get funding to continue offering the Wellness Education classes. Some communities were able to pay a small hourly fee and others had nothing to offer. I became a Silver Sneakers FLEX instructor to get some funds back but not every Senior has silver sneakers. I was offering classes and getting paid $6 per hour. There is still minimal funding for wellness or fitness for Seniors except through Silver Sneakers or Renew Active, unless they have money to pay.
So now I offer Silver Sneakers classes in the Bob L Burger Recreation Center & Senior Center in Lafayette, CO; the Tru PACE center in Louisville; Innovage Lakewood; and Eaton Senior Community in Lakewood. They pay me an hourly wage to teach fitness classes, offer hand massages and Aromatherapy, that are offered free to the Senior Community.
Jennifer, before we move on to more of these sorts of questions, can you take some time to bring our readers up to speed on you and what you do?
I wasn’t always a healthy mother of three, and now Grandmother. I was born with a birth defect that caused massive kidney damage when I was eight. Throughout life I suffered from chronic kidney infections due to the scar tissue from the surgery performed. Even through that I grew up quite strong and healthy. Except I had an excessive sweet tooth and a coffee addiction. In college I was like so many other kids – partying, trying drugs, drinking and smoking. I became a smoker and a drug addict along with my soda and coffee use.
I hit rock bottom in 1999 when I used the last of my money to buy some more meth to get high one more time. I weighed 95 lbs at 5’6″ and was living in my boyfriend’s mother’s basement. I had no car, no home, and no money. My dog and snake had both run away because I couldn’t feed them. It finally sunk in what I had done to myself over the last 3 years since graduating high school.
So I made the choice to get sober. I went back home to my parents and lived in their basement for awhile. I never considered the side effects of losing so much weight so fast. You put it back on and more when you’re sober. By 2000 I was pregnant with my first daughter and rocketed up to 220 pounds. After the delivery I didn’t lose the weight. The weight stayed on through my next pregnancy. Somewhere between the second and third I developed type II diabetes. I ignored the symptoms but was informed later by a doctor that I had been diabetic for some time. During my third pregnancy I developed gestational diabetes. My blood sugar was so high I couldn’t even eat a carrot without it spiking. I was injecting insulin six times a day throughout the pregnancy.
After the delivery I was told I would have to continue using insulin for the rest of my life. I can’t stand needles and this was the most torture I ever wanted to endure. So I was desperate to find a different way. I learned some nutritional information from the gestational dietitian that helped me start.
I made the decision to change my diet first, so stopped drinking soda and eating junk food. I took time to learn about ways to replace the unhealthy carbohydrates and fats. I also began using vitamins and herbal remedies to supplement my new diet and assist in modifying my pancreatic function and help to control the high blood sugar. I started practicing Yoga to help improve my appearance and function.
Eventually I gained control and lost some weight. By 2009 I was down to 175 pounds. But I was still smoking. I decided it was time to stop that as well. First I tried all the recommendations – nicotine replacement, snacking, chewing gum, etc. Nothing helped me to get past the desire to smoke. Until one day I tried to carry my 2 year old upstairs and was winded doing it. I was only 32. That finally helped me make the choice. I quit cold turkey, spent a week in angry hell, and have never looked back at smoking cigarettes again.
Everything I learned by helping myself change my life in order to simply live. I want to help others do the same. You do not have to be stuck in the addiction and medication cycle. With hard work and dedication to yourself you can live healthy at a minimal cost. I am now caffeine free and prescription free. I take no over the counter drugs either. By combining Aromatherapy, Herbal Remedies, Exercise and Meditation I have found the perfect way to stay healthy. While still living paycheck to paycheck.
Now, at 44 and a grandmother, my A1c is 5.2 without medications. I teach fitness classes and am the healthiest I have ever been in my entire life. I rarely even have any kidney troubles even though the scar tissue is still there. Because I know how to care for and nourish myself naturally.
Helping others to see the possibility of natural health is my goal.
We often hear about learning lessons – but just as important is unlearning lessons. Have you ever had to unlearn a lesson?
The biggest lesson I had to unlearn was that appearance matters more that personality. My parents taught me that physical appearance was what got you anywhere in life. You had to look like society’s expectations otherwise you would not be accepted. In order to be acceptable in society you had to wear the clothes that everyone else wears and like the things that everyone else likes. For some reason my mother really felt the need to be accepted by wealthier society. She had to fit in with the upper class people. Even though she comes from a poor family of farmers.
The more I was pushed to be something I wasn’t the more I pushed back and the more outrageous I became.
When I started working with Seniors I found that they are way more likely to accept someone with tattoos or colored hair than their children would. They loved that I dye my hair bright red, it actually helped them to remember me better. They loved the tattoos that I drew for myself. All the while my parents are looking down at me like an embarrassment.
I understand that appearance means way less than I was taught. Personality and kindness go so much further.
Can you tell us about a time you’ve had to pivot?
When the pandemic started I have to pivot to keep working.
In early 2019 I began teaching my fitness classes and offering hand massages at nursing homes on a part time basis while working another job. By November of 2019 I had acquired a full schedule of 5 classes per day 5 days a week. Everything was going great and then March 2020, everything was closed down to reduce the infection rate. I was no longer allowed around Seniors because I wouldn’t succumb to vaccination.
So I went back to work at my previous job to get some hours and help pay bills. I attempted to offer fitness classes through ZOOM and Facebook but the elderly in nursing homes cannot see the TV screen or hear well enough for it to work. Nor can I provide a hand massage over the internet. I had to give up.
Then I started looking for fitness instructor jobs. Maybe one way I can get back to offering fitness in some form. I was hired by the City of Lafayette to instruct at the Bob L Burger Rec center, November 2020. Now I am teaching Silver Sneakers fitness classes in person at the Senior Center and Rec Center in Lafayette. Finally, hand massages at Innovage will begin again in May.
I had to pivot to keep eating and paying bills. And now everything is slowly going back to normal.
- Website: https://motherjai.com
- Instagram: https://instagram.com/motherjais
- Facebook: https://facebook.com/motherjaisllc
- Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCD6toxHkBEMIceae2aj39Aw
- Other: firstname.lastname@example.org