“Fit to Lead”

Lauren Broadhurst and the Healthworks Foundation

Since 1977 Healthworks, Inc. has been providing women with quality fitness centers in the Boston region. Since 1998, Healthworks, Inc., a for-profit, has been channeling its proceeds into a related but separate operation: providing low-cost and free fitness services for women and children, and helping expand the definition of fitness to include mental and fiscal as well as physical fitness. Lauren Broadhurst recently stepped into the director’s role at Healthworks Foundation, the corporation’s non-profit wing. After serving in the Peace Corps, where she worked with women and girls on health and wellness initiatives, she knew she wanted to continue to address these issues upon her return. She also knew she wasn’t about to work in any random gym. The Healthworks Foundation was the fit that made perfect sense. Here, Lauren reflects on the broadening definition of healthcare, and on leadership and collaboration.

How did Healthworks Foundation grow out of Healthworks, Inc.?

In the late 1990s, Healthworks, Inc. was sued by a man for discrimination, as it only served women. Healthworks lost the lawsuit, but was supported by women all over the country and the legislation was ultimately changed. Now both women’s and men’s only fitness centers can be legally operated in Massachusetts. Healthworks realized if it had enough money to defend itself in such a substantial lawsuit, it had the money to give to the greater good. So, the Healthworks Foundation was created. It was established initially with the intention to serve as a traditional foundation would, with financial contributions from the company and Healthworks members being made to various non-profit organizations in the health and wellness sector. However, the Foundation discovered that members generally preferred to make their donations directly to their own causes rather than go through the Foundation. So in 2002 the Healthworks Foundation shifted its mission and decided to give back to the community by doing what it does best, which is fitness.

What is Healthworks Foundation about?

We are trying to transform a community, and we do that by providing multi-faceted support for people. Working in partnership with community health centers and other local social service organizations, we support people as they try to get healthy and stable in terms of their finances and in terms of their well-being in general. Working directly with healthcare providers is our new model, which we hope to replicate in the future in order to provide more comprehensive health care for the patient. It’s a lot about coordination and partnership and teamwork.

We’re still learning and being challenged by the responsibilities involved in operating a full-service fitness center that serves both children and women. Coupling that with the development responsibilities of a growing non-profit, and then working in partnership with these various moving parts is a lot for a small team to handle. We’re doing our best and taking it slowly, but we have substantial goals.

How much of your operating costs are covered by Healthworks, Inc.?

Our primary donor is Healthworks Inc., the for-profit company. Until very recently, it would be fair to say, 100%. But fortunately we are beginning to be awarded grants, which we need in order to offer all we’d like to for the community. And we’re actually thinking of changing our name from the Healthworks Foundation, because what we do now doesn’t reflect what a traditional foundation does and we find it’s misleading to potential funders.

What is it like to step into a leadership role within something that’s already moving along?

I’ve been with this organization for about a year and a half and in this role for about a year, and prior to me there were three people in my position in a year and a half. And of course it’s very difficult to make traction, grow, and also establish credibility when there’s so much leadership transition, but I’m here to dig my heels in and make progress. It’s challenging but very exciting. The nature of what we’re doing – that we’re combining a traditionally for-profit industry and trying to create a new non-profit health model – means that there’s a lot of different components for this to work. I have an opportunity to wear many different hats and I’m never bored. It’s definitely challenging, and sometimes – I’m not going to lie – I feel like I should just crawl under my desk. But it’s incredibly rewarding and gratifying and awesome. I believe in the mission. I personally think exercise is medicinal and therapeutic and I love my job because I get to contribute to people’s health and well-being and they always leave happier than when they arrive.

Could you speak more to the balance between maintaining the contact and support with the for-profit that birthed the cause while also expanding as a non-profit?

I’ve had to learn to dance. The dance is to sometimes strategically fly below the radar when it serves us, and strategically come out on stage when it serves us. And I mean that specifically in terms of our relationship with Healthworks, Inc. The man who started Healthworks is an amazing person and businessman– obviously very benevolent, very good-hearted, and wants the best, or else he wouldn’t be doing this. He has the highest standards for his business as well the Foundation, and sometimes it’s an interesting challenge for me to work towards our mission while honoring the business lens that comes very naturally to him.

What kinds of stereotypes do you come up against about what it means to be a for-profit or not-for-profit?

I think in general the not-profit industry doesn’t have the best reputation in the for-profit sector. Sometimes people feel that non-profits are not run as efficiently as possible, and that they can be financially irresponsible. In that sense I feel that I have to have the non-profit industry’s back a little bit and be somewhat defensive. At the same time, the same things could be said about the for-profit industry. Look at Wall Street in the past couple of years, for example. I think awareness is needed onboth sides. The for-profit side should be aware of how non-profits can make progress in a community like Boston, and I believe a lot of that has to do with relationship building, networking, and collaborating with other non-profits. I believe this will prove very important to our growth and help lead us to our place as the premier non-profit in the health and fitness industry. I’m not sure such relationship-building and collaboration is something that people in the traditional fitness industry are necessarily used to doing.

Mark Harrington, the CEO of Healthworks, Inc., will be the first to say, “I want the Foundation run like a for-profit – I want it to be self-sustainable, I want it to be responsible financially, I never want it to be at the risk of going under.” I agree with that whole-heartedly. In fact, I was planning to go to business school because I believe that applying for-profit principals to the not-for-profit industry is a very good idea and that there shouldn’t be such black and white lines between the industries. Best practices can be shared and utilized on both sides. There’s a lot of good to come from being exposed to the entrepreneurs and the business side as well.

Where do you go for support and advice?

I go primarily to my colleagues at the health centers and of course to the Healthworks, Inc. community. The health centers know our members very well. They know the community here and they’ve been treating and working with them for years. I also look to other organizations in Boston that are doing similar work – working with girls, serving low income community members. I always get good ideas. I learn everyday and I think that people are very open and very willing to offer support, usually through the interest in collaborating and creating joint programs.

I think it’s really important to ask questions, because I find that they get answered and that people are usually – in this industry at least – very willing to help and to offer insight and guidance. And I’m certainly not shy about asking for help because I realize that my current position is an opportunity for growth for me professionally and I don’t know everything and I never will. I’m fortunate to be surrounded by people in multiple industries that have various experiences and I’m not afraid to ask for guidance and insight.

Could you talk a bit about your own trajectory toward the Foundation? What was the development of your thoughts and ideas that led you to where you are?

Health and wellness have always been a personal interest of mine. I was an overweight child and an obese teenager and continue to struggle to maintain a healthy weight. I’ve been where a lot of our members are. And I also love exercise. The human body is designed to move and the fact that people sit around all day not moving really has profound effects on our cognitive functioning and our emotional well being in addition to our physical health.

I’ve always been a service oriented person. As I mentioned previously, I was considering business school, with a desire to run an international non-profit. However, when I was working with women and girls in the Peace Corps, there was so much neglect around physical health in terms of fitness and care in terms of nutrition. It was very easy to offer simple suggestions that could make a significant positive impact on their health. Just getting people moving and feeling good about themselves was really inspiring and provided me with a lot of personal gratification. And current health reports indicate there’s a need for similar work in the United States as well, so here I am.

One of my primary life goals has been to have a rewarding and contributive career. To be able to combine my desire to do good while doing well with my personal passion for exercise and health is a professional dream for me.

What advice would you give to a college-age student who knows they’re passionate about social change and may even know the kind of field they want to work in but is not sure what steps to take, where to get in?

I would say reach out to people. Even if you don’t know them, send emails or make phone calls. The roles you’re aspiring to fill are likely filled with people like you. And most of us hopefully remember that we are on Team Human and that other people matter and that we’ll get a lot farther when we work together and help each other. Good people like to help and are keen to support other good, capable people. Tap into human capital. Reach out to the people that you want to connect with – and to your peers too. People of all ages are extremely capable. So just talk and reach out and if the role isn’t there that you want, or the organization isn’t there that you see the need for, start it yourself, because people do it all the time and they do incredible things.

How would you define leadership?

Leadership is the ability to guide people responsibly and kindly towards a shared goal or vision.