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Exercise your benefits: Claim your wellness grant! 

by Jessica Wells, League Communications Specialist

According to the RAND Corporation, a research organization, more than half of United States employers offer workplace wellness programs. These wellness programs can include policies that encourage time for exercise, walking groups at lunch, healthy food options, incentives to participate in screenings, activities and more. A successful program not only leads to healthier, more engaged employees but lower healthcare costs, too.

Because the League’s Health Benefits Trust believes in the value of such programs, it offers members $100,000 in wellness grants each year. Each member is eligible to apply for up to $3,000 annually to fund wellness activities.

Many municipalities, like the Town of Nags Head, take advantage of that perk each year.

"Before 2010, we didn’t have health insurance with the League, but as soon as we got insurance with the League, we started applying for grants because it’s a no brainer," Nags Head Public Information Officer Roberta Thuman said. "It’s essentially free money."

Since 2010, the town has used its free money to furnish an on-site wellness center. Each year they added a new piece of equipment including ellipticals, treadmills, stationary bikes and, the most recent addition, a Jacobs Ladder machine at the request of the fire and police departments.

The machine is similar to a stair climber, but is non-motorized, so the faster you move, the faster the steps come toward you. According to the website, Jacobs Ladder is preferred by pro football teams, the FBI, the Army, the Navy, West Point and numerous Division I universities to improve their strength and conditioning programs.

"It’s a great perk. It’s a nice, small gym – about 2 rooms – and thanks to grants from the League, we’ve been able to outfit it and make improvements," Thuman said.

Thuman is part of a core group of employees who offer ideas about what wellness incentives and activities the town will provide. There’s at least one employee from each department on the committee, and all employees are encouraged to join.

In 2014, the committee decided to use the wellness grants to buy $2,500 worth of Fitbit activity trackers and Garmin GPS watches as an incentive for employees to be more active. To be eligible for a device, employees had to attend the town’s Get to Know Your Wellness Center event.The event educated employees about the equipment in the center and how to use it safely. Of the town’s 109 employees, roughly 30 attended and received a device – that’s above average participation in fitness-based wellness events, which is 21 percent according to RAND and the U.S. Department of Labor.

"A lot of times the people who aren’t exercising right now are a little hesitant to ask for help, so with a bunch of people there, they didn’t stand out," Roberta said. "We got the message out to more people than we did with one on ones because people just seem to be more comfortable in a group."

The runners in the group can use their new Garmin watches when they take advantage of the free registration for Dare County and city employees provided by the Outer Banks Hospital for the annual First Flight 5k. The race is a culmination of the hospital’s annual Couch to 5k program, and a means to win the coveted Stinky Sneaker award, which goes to the local government with the largest percentage of participants and the best finishing times.

Although Southern Shores or Duck usually takes home the award because they have the least number of employees, Thuman said the town enjoys participating in the friendly competition.

"It’s excellent because you get our town manager, most of our elected officials and several employees to participate," she said. "The free registration is really great because it encourages a lot of people who don’t normally participate in the races or don’t run to walk with a friend or fellow employee."

Now that the town has activity trackers and an outfitted gym, Thuman said the committee is considering bringing in someone to do healthy cooking demonstrations or yoga classes.

The application process for receiving grants was recently streamlined to allow your town to apply for grants per wellness event multiple times per year eliminating the need to plan the entire year’s programs before applying. If your town is interested in receiving wellness grants or becoming a member of the Health Benefits Trust, email Lisa Ervin, League wellness and health benefits administrator, at 919-715-7973. You can also visit rms.nclm.org/wellness to download the one-page application!