Lombard resident Donna Nosak had almost given up on losing weight when she attended Healthy Lombard's Fitness February Fair at Yorktown Center mall last year.
"I got stuck trying to do it on my own," Nosak said. "I just felt lost last year. I just kind of gave up."
This year, Nosak will receive one of four Health Heroes awards that will be given at the 2015 Fitness February Fair, which will be from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 28, at Yorktown's lower level center court.
Nosak said last year's fair led her to the resources that enabled her to lose 40 pounds. At the 2014 fair, Nosak met wellness coach Melanie Jordan, an exhibitor at the fair, and began working with her in April.
Jordan, who counseled her on making better food choices and incorporating activity in her daily life that was both healthy and fun, nominated Nosak for an award this year in recognition of the progress she has made.
"If I didn't go the fair, I never would have met her," Nosak said. "It's a great fair."
Stories like that make Healthy Lombard volunteer CEO Jay Wojcik pleased with the progress since she started Healthy Lombard in 2009 to combat childhood obesity.
"This is so rewarding looking back," Wojcik said. "It took maybe two years before people even thought this might be viable."
Now Healthy Lombard has a website that gets 3,500 hits a month, produces a cable TV show titled "Health Local," runs the annual Fitness Fair, helps provide G.Y.M. bags in Lombard elementary schools to encourage students to be more active on weekends, and shows up at a host of summer events with activities designed to get people moving.
The initiative that started with seven community groups now has 40 partner businesses, organizations, school districts and governmental entities working together to encourage people to take responsibility for their own health.
"The idea took off," Wojcik said. "You see more people walking. You see more kids out playing. You see more healthy choices in restaurants."
Concern for kids
It all started when Wojcik, the former director of communications for Lombard Elementary District 44, was looking toward her retirement years and decided that her "bucket list" of things to still accomplish in life included leaving something positive behind.
A former first-grade teacher who worked as District 44's communications director for 23 years, Wojcik had seen the changes that had occurred in kids over that time.
"Kids just weren't as active," she said. "You saw parents driving kids all over the place."
But Wojcik knew the outreach had to be to more than kids.
"You can't have a healthy child unless you have parents, grandparents and community members on the same page," she said.
Wojcik had heard that the late Lombard Village President Bill Mueller was interested in doing something healthy for the community and approached him about working together. The first Fitness February Fair was held in 2011 for 45 minutes before the village board meeting in village hall.
After Mueller's death, the Fitness Fair was moved to Yorktown, where it has taken off. This year's fair has 36 vendor/sponsors, health screenings, stage performances, exercise opportunities, jump rope and Hula-Hoop contests, and a raffle.
Visitors receive a sticker sheet with 16 spaces and fill in a space each time they visit an exhibit. When 16 spaces are filled, they can enter their name in a raffle for prizes that include a set of Beats Headphones, an itek Activity Tracker and a collection of exercise equipment.
Demonstrations range from Ageless Grace to Soccer Moves by members of the Red Stars Soccer team, to Sky Center Martial Arts. Lisa McDaniel of Zumba by Lisa will offer a demonstration that invites audience participation.
McDaniel, who also participated in last year's fair, said the fairs helped raise awareness of being fit.
"She's (Wojcik) great to work with. She's so committed," McDaniel said.
The Health Hero awards will be presented at 1 p.m. by Healthy Lombard with the assistance of Supernova, the mascot of the Red Stars Women's Soccer Team. In addition to Nosak, awards will be given to Geoff Cottrell of Lombard, Matt McGrath of Woodridge and to the Westin Hotel of Lombard.
The hotel was able to take steps to improve the health of its employees with the help of a small grant obtained by Healthy Lombard.
The Kiwanis Club of Lombard, of which Wojcik is an active member, sponsored the Health Hero awards in recognition of Kiwanis International Centennial celebration in 2015. Stephanie Schiszik, president of the Kiwanis Club of Lombard, as well as executive director of Camp Fire USA-Illinos Prairie Council and a board member of Healthy Lombard, said Wojcik has been a master at getting other people involved in the fitness initiative.
"Her excitement is contagious," Schiszik said. "It's hard to say no to her."
Rebecca McFarland of FORWARD DuPage, a coalition of partners working to reduce obesity in DuPage County, is also a member of Healthy Lombard. Wojcik is so welcoming that people want to come to the organization's quarterly meetings, McFarland said.
"I think that is due to her passion," she said. "You really feel like you're happy you showed up."
Wojcik, who said she initially did everything herself before she had a board, said she wants an organization that can go on without her. Healthy Lombard is built on what she calls Triple A -- Awareness, Activities and Achievement.
Achievements are recognized with the Health Heroes awards. Liberal about the criteria for giving awards, Wojcik said she shares in other people's struggles to stay fit. She practices yoga in the mornings, has a treadmill, and walks in forest preserves in the summer.
I try to be healthy. I have weight problems like anyone else. I just got off Jenny Craig," she said.
To build awareness of how to be healthy, the Healthy Lombard website has a calendar of local area fitness-related events that people might want to attend. Its half-hour TV show, "Health Local," includes segments with personal trainers, exercise instruction and cooking demonstrations. It is shown in 19 suburbs with local access cable television and on YouTube.
In addition to organizing the Fitness Fair, Healthy Lombard's activities include working with District 44 to distribute "Get Yourself Moving" (G.Y.M.) bags in second-grade classrooms in the district.
Debra Surdam, the physical education teacher at Park View Elementary School who started the program 12 years ago, said on Fridays a student in each second-grade classroom is given a G.Y.M bag to take home filled with a jump rope, different balls, a paddle and a Frisbee. The students are instructed to use the equipment with their families over the weekend and write a short fitness adventure story of what they did.
The next week, the student reads the adventure story to the class and the story and student's picture are posted on the bulletin board.
Surdam said Healthy Lombard's support of the program has given it a boost, and Wojcik also has obtained extra items to put in the bags. The idea is that students will learn at an early age how to stay healthy for a lifetime, Surdam said.
"The kids love to take it (the bag) home. They love seeing their work up on the bulletin board," she said.
Wojcik said the program is expanding to Hammerschidmt, Butterfield and St. John's Lutheran schools with Healthy Lombard's support.
Over the summer, Healthy Lombard sponsors the Flat Apple photo contest in which people receive raffle tickets by submitting "Healthy Selfies" of themselves doing a fitness-type activity at "Hot Spots."
Hot Spots are community events such as Cruise Nights or Taste of Lombard, where Healthy Lombard arranges to have a zumba class, fitness challenge or something else that will get people moving.
For the future, Wojcik said she would like to add more summer activities and work with restaurants to have them expand their healthy choices. People who can help with fundraising are needed, she said. Until now, she and her husband have provided much of the financial support for Healthy Lombard.
"I can't ask for money. I have a really hard time fundraising. It's not a strength," she said.
But Wojcik is happy with what has been accomplished so far. Fitness isn't a stigma, she said. More people are talking about staying healthy and other communities -- such as West Chicago, Bensenville and Bolingbrook -- are working to get healthy initiatives started.
"Anyone can participate (in Healthy Lombard) no matter where you live," she said. "I think we have been an inspiration."