Fitness with a Purpose
An Interview with Life Time Foundation
When you’re at your local fitness club—logging those hours on the elliptical, pushing out another rep of squats, or eking out that last push-up—have you ever thought about the gym you are supporting?
“Triple bottom line” has become something we expect from most of our food and clothing retail establishments, but until now, athletic gyms have been given a pass on having a mission behind their commercial enterprises. Committed to changing that, Life Time – The Healthy Way of Life Company, with over 100 Healthy Way of Life destinations across the country, launched the Life Time Foundation in 2008. From 2008-2011 the Life Time Foundation operated like most corporate foundations, collecting and distributing money to various charities and foundations. In 2011, under the direction of Life Time Founder CEO Bahram Akradi, the mission was changed to that of driving healthier and more nutritious food in schools nationwide.
So, how does an amenity-driven company (offering everything you could dream of from tennis courts to giant pools to onsite spas) decide that they want to help change school food? In an interview with Barbara Koch, the Executive Director of the Foundation, she explains, "Life Time has a long history of being dedicated to changing the health of America. We aim to inspire healthy people and a healthy planet, and focusing on the health of our children—one school lunch at a time—is our way of giving back to our community.”
As a long-time advocate for healthy school food reform and the CEO of The Chef Ann Foundation (founded by Chef Ann Cooper, a.k.a “The Renegade Lunch Lady”), I must say I was impressed with their philanthropic choice. In my previous career as the global partnership director for Whole Foods Market, I had many meetings with NGO's and was forced to pick and choose which non-profits to work with and for what purpose. So, I understand the other side of the table and it makes me appreciate foundations like Life Time all the more.
As soon as we met Executive Director Barbara Koch and her passionate team, I knew it was going to be a long-term partnership. Barbara wanted to understand everything she could about school food and she also wanted to know what schools needed most. What they need most, from our perspective, is the technical support resources that we developed, but were fighting tooth and nail to keep available to all schools for free at www.thelunchbox.org. Barbara agreed. It became clear very quickly that supporting the tools on The Lunch Box was just as important to her and Life Time Foundation as it was for us.
We got the chance to catch up with Barbara and talk with her about why she took this role, what the foundation’s goals are, and the reason behind their support of The Lunch Box. Here are some excerpts from our interview:
Why did you take the position of Executive Director of the Life Time Foundation?
I have had a long career in working for public charities. Until I joined Life Time, I focused primarily on raising money for cancer research to help children fight the disease. When the founder of Life Time – the Healthy Way of Life Company approached me with the idea for his Foundation, I realized there was an opportunity to not only help children who are already sick, a cause that is very close to my heart, but to also help kids be healthy before they ever got sick.
What is the primary mission of Life Time?
Our mission is to inspire healthy people and a healthy planet by improving children’s nutrition one school lunch at a time. We aim to eliminate the seven ingredients of concern [high fructose corn syrup, artificial colors, artificial sweeteners, artificial preservatives, trans fat, bleached flour, and hormones and antibiotics] from the school lunch and encourage families and school food service professionals to cook from scratch. Since 2011, we’ve been on the ground with school districts helping them discover what they need to do to eliminate unhealthy ingredients from their meals.
Why did you first connect with Chef Ann Foundation?
We have a very dedicated staff, but we’re small in numbers. As the foundation grew, and we started working with larger school districts, we realized we needed to grow too. We had heard of Chef Ann and the great work she was doing across the country, and we realized the Chef Ann Foundation’s scope of experience would really help fill the gap in our own expertise. Both of our organizations passionately strive to improve school food. Together, we felt that we could accomplish our shared goal faster and more effectively.
Why is it important to Life Time to support The Lunch Box and keep the tools free for all schools?
Life Time – the Healthy Way of Life Company is all about teaching people to live their own healthy way of life. Whether it’s through fitness assessments, consulting, or training, we strive to empower people to make healthy change themselves. That’s what The Lunch Box does as well—it provides the tools that schools need to make the healthy change their meal programs need.
And, it’s the best resource of its kind in the country. The Lunch Box doesn’t just address menus and USDA compliant recipes, but lunchroom education and marketing, financial and staffing models—the complete picture of school food. The website is so comprehensive and supports schools in exactly the areas they need help. We really feel strongly that every child deserves a healthy school meal, which is why it’s so important to keep the tools on The Lunch Box free for all schools to benefit from them.
For you, what is your ultimate picture of success?
Our ultimate picture of success is having school districts all over the country report increased participation in their meals programs after committing to healthy change. School districts that are large and small, that are near and far from our Life Time Healthy Way of Life destinations.
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