Health Department Kicks Off Fitness Program for Faith-Based Organizations

50 houses of worship across the city to conduct weekly fitness classes

To continue and expand the program, volunteers will be trained to become certified fitness instructors

March 21, 2017 — The Health Department today launched the Faith-Based Physical Activity Challenge, a fitness program spearheaded by the Center for Health Equity’s Office of Faith-Based Initiatives. The program pairs certified physical fitness instructors with 50 houses of worship across the city to conduct weekly fitness classes for congregants and community members. Volunteers who participate in the program will also have the opportunity to become trained fitness instructors.

The Faith-Based Physical Activity Challenge is an expansion of a Health Department initiative launched in 2015 that offers wellness and fitness programs to institutions in neighborhoods with the highest burden of chronic disease. In addition to 20 fitness classes taught by certified instructors, the program provides free equipment, including exercise balls, barbells, stationary bikes and treadmills. The Faith-Based Physical Activity Challenge starts this week and runs through June 30, 2017. To continue the program beyond the end of June, volunteers who commit to participating in the challenge will be eligible to become trained certified fitness instructors. The Health Department will pay for the training. More information about participating organizations and a schedule of classes can be found at

“By training people as fitness instructors and providing resources and wellness programs in houses of worship, we are building capacity in communities to improve their health,” said Health Commissioner Dr. Mary T. Bassett. “This initiative is part of our ongoing partnership with the faith based community to reach people in places that they trust.”

“We are committed to advancing health equity through economic development,” said Dr. Aletha Maybank, Deputy Commissioner and Director of the Center for Health Equity. “By funding trainings for faith leaders to become certified fitness instructors, they have an opportunity to learn new technical skills that add sustainable assets for their own lives and their neighborhood.”

"Through Commissioner Bassett's vision and inclusive engagement, communities of faith can now stand at the intersection of physical and spiritual wellness,” said Jonathan Soto, Executive Director for the Center for Faith and Community Partnerships. "The Center for Faith and Community Partnerships is eager to connect the Health Department’s fitness initiative to community and faith leaders throughout New York City neighborhoods, and I look forward to the sustained engagement in the months to come."

“The care for the physical body is important to our spirituality, as the body is the temple of God,” said Father Darryl James, Pastor of the Grace Episcopal Church, and Interim Chair of the Queens Interfaith Advisory Group. “The Office of Faith Based Initiatives has encouraged our parishioners to live out this mandate by offering fitness instructors, basic exercise equipment, and most recently the opportunity to train two people from Grace Parish to be instructors. We are grateful for these vehicles of health and wellness.”

"We are grateful to Health Commissioner Bassett for her commitment to having the faith based community as a partner in promoting public health,” said Scottie Owings-Leaks, President of the Brooklyn Interfaith Advisory Group. “Expanding the fitness program to include training of volunteer fitness instructors is yet another example of her vision of creating public health opportunities with long lasting impact."

“A healthy mind, body and spirit is key to having a meaningfully productive life. This program provides our church and surrounding community the opportunity to make this empowering connection a reality,” said Rev. Dr. Demetrius S. Carolina, Sr. Pastor of First Central Baptist Church on Staten Island.

“I commend Health Commissioner Bassett for launching the Faith-Based Physical Activity Challenge, an exciting initiative that comes at a time when diabetes, heart disease, and other preventable diseases are increasing at alarming rates, particularly in central and eastern Brooklyn,” said Brooklyn Borough President Eric L. Adams. “I know firsthand the power of exercise to heal the mind, body, and spirit, especially as someone who has battled Type 2 diabetes through healthy lifestyle changes. We need to do all we can to shift attitudes and change the way we look at our health. Healing our bodies starts with taking care of it from the inside. Reaching out to houses of worship is a great way to encourage people to change dietary habits and promote greater physical activity.”

About the Office of Faith-Based Initiatives

The Office of Faith-Based Initiatives in the Center for Health Equity (CHE) leads the Health Department’s effort to create sustainable partnerships with the faith community and address health inequities in New York City. The initiative builds partnerships with the faith community through borough-specific Interfaith Advisory Groups.

About the Interfaith Advisory Groups

Convened by the Office of Faith Based Initiatives, the Interfaith Advisory Groups bring together faith leaders to collaborate with the Health Department in the planning and development of public health programs and policies. Interfaith Advisory Groups are based in each borough and work to reduce health disparities by advocating for improved health care access and promoting wellness through health education and outreach.

About the Health Department’s Center for Health Equity

Founded in 2014, the Health Department’s Center for Health Equity amplifies the agency’s work to eliminate health disparities and improve health outcomes in neighborhoods with disproportionately high rates of chronic disease and premature death. The division takes a number of approaches to invest in key neighborhoods, eliminate the social barriers to good health and advance health equity throughout New York City. The Neighborhood Health Action Centers, opening soon, will better link residents with local primary care and community services. The Action Centers will also provide space for community-based organizations and Health Department staff to work together to advance neighborhood health. For more information on the Center for Health Equity, visit

Follow the Center for Health Equity on social media using #NYCHealthEquity.



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