Beginning the year as they mean to go on, Shawsville’s Meadowbrook Library will launch on Jan. 2, “Roaming Readers,” a two-month-long walking club and winter fitness challenge for all ages, powered by audiobooks, a wish for health in the new year, and the chance to win a FitBit.
Disturbingly, one out of two American adults lives with a chronic disease like heart disease, cancer, or diabetes; in Virginia, chronic disease causes 50 percent of all avoidable deaths. But increasing physical activity not only reduces the risk for chronic disease, it boosts positive mental health and promotes healthy aging according to the Centers for Disease Control and the Virginia Department of Health, and…well, it’s fun.
Because the mission of public libraries today is not only to bring people and knowledge together, but to serve as a community center, a site of civic engagement, culture, education, and wellness, it’s hardly surprising that Meadowbrook Public Library circulation specialist, Molly Upthegrove, who also works in the gym that’s part of the Meadowbrook Center, developed the ‘Roaming Readers’ program to help Shawsville, and neighboring eastern Montgomery County communities, keep their minds and bodies fit.
She got the idea from a library in Illinois where people meet at the library to walk and talk to each other about the books they’ve read. But Upthegrove added a little technological spin for Meadowbrook.
“I thought that was a really great idea and we have a lot of databases where you can read online and download books or listen to books. We’re always trying to promote our audiobooks available online. A lot of people have smart phones now and it’s easy to download a book and go out for a walk.”
Each week between 3:30 and 4:30 (scheduled for after school so “If kids want to come, they’re welcome,” she said) participants will come to the library and pick up their activity log and record the amount of time they’re active, and what they do while they’re active.
And Roaming Readers will not limit themselves to walking. The log suggests activities ranging from walking, jogging, and hiking to yoga, exercise class, weight-lifting and, interestingly, ‘bowling’. People will also record whether they listened to a book.
Older people are encouraged to participate. Upthegrove, who also works at the Meadowbrook Center gym, said the gym is participating in ‘Silver Sneakers,’ a program in which people 65 and over may be able to get free gym membership through their insurance.
“We have a lot of seniors in the area and it’s just a great opportunity to be able to go to the gym for free.”
Roaming Readers will log their activities every week until Feb. 27 when one log will be drawn and that newly toned, literary and happy participant will be awarded a FitBit. It is hoped the device will encourage the new exercise habit to continue.
January and February were chosen to get the year off on a good foot said Molly.
“’After the holidays’ is a really popular time for people to start exercising and getting in shape and making New Year’s resolutions. It’s always a busy time at the gym as well. So we just felt that would be a good time and we could jump on that bandwagon,” she said.
More than a library, the Meadowbrook Community Center houses the Waldron Wellness Center, the Meadowbrook Museum, the George Gray Gallery, and community meeting rooms for clubs, classes, and bean and banjo dinners. In the spring, the farmers’ market is held out front. In August, the Eastmont Tomato Festival is celebrated in the leafy courtyard.
The library provides space for civic engagement, and librarians like Molly Upthegrove design clever, innovative programs that address the social, economic, and environmental interests and needs of the community.
“Libraries all over the country share ideas and are becoming more like community centers and getting involved with things like fitness. I think that’s really exciting,” she said.