ENTRY FROM: The Top 100 Health Promotion Professionals

Nominee: Brian Jolles

Making a Difference

As the co-owner of Jolles Insurance & Financial, for 30 years Brian Jolles stayed focused on providing an insurance safety net for his clients. On December 31, 2005, after visiting his doctor, Brian made a change in his life. He learned that both his weight and his cholesterol had reached a dangerous level. Having lost his father to early age heart complications and his brother to cancer, this was a wake up call. However, once he made the decision to become healthier and found success making simple adjustments to eat healthier and exercise more, it became more than a personal goal. He brought his new found passion for wellness to his employees which resulted in his company being recognized as the small business wellness innovator of the year. With the $2,500 award Brian took it even one step further and founded We Promote Health (WPH), a local non-profit with a 100% volunteer board and staff. Under Brian's leadership, WPH has made an amazing impact in the local schools, workplaces and community. Brian no longer limits his focus to just providing an insurance safety net; he is a leader in his community in promoting, on a community-wide level, the importance of proactively focusing on wellness. For Brian, It's about providing others on-going and increasing opportunities to protect the most important asset they have, their health status!

More than a Guinness World Record

The idea to set the Guinness World Record for the Largest Outdoor Circuit Training was never about setting a record at was about encouraging and motivating individuals of all ages and fitness levels to make a commitment to wellness. Yes, 317 individuals set a record, but almost a thousand more have benefited from the FREE "Boot Camp in the Park" that is now in its 4th year!

Professional Development & Leadership 

Brian Jolles is the CEO of Jolles Insurance & Financial, a 6 member agency that has been recognized in Howard County, MD more than any other organization for workplace wellness innovation.  In 2007, the Jolles team won the first award ever presented by their county for Small Business Workplace Wellness for their work on "Improving the Health of Howard County Employees".   They were also awarded, on two separate occasions, the "Small Business Wellness Innovation Award".  Howard County has recognized healthy workplaces since 2007 based on three possible levels of commitment.  Brian's company has been recognized at the highest level every year since the award was first introduced.  Brian built his agency 30 years ago with a focus on providing employee benefit packages to employer groups of all sizes.

Early on, Brian learned that health care costs are largely driven by the choices that employees and their families make every single day.  Brian and his team became experts at designing competitive health insurance plans and being there to provide the service needed whenever claims occurred.  Over 30 years, Brian earned three major industry designations:  CLU, ChFC and CASL.  But, it wasn't until 2005, following several family tragedies, that Brian really began to connect the dots.  Yes, the insurance and financial services that he and his team provide have served his clients well, but the real key is focusing on health promotion and prevention.  Brian founded We Promote Health (WPH) in 2007 and, to this day, as President of the non-profit, is proud of his 100% board and volunteer core.  Brian has been the leading force since it's inception while still working full-time as an insurance and financial advisor in his own firm.  WPH, with very minimal resources, has proven to be a leader in promoting wellness.

Brian has 7 certifications and is considered faculty with WELCOA.  Jolles learned that his personal passion for wellness and his genuine concern for his employees’ health are the key ingredients as a beginning steps to creating a real culture of wellness.

Demonstrated Success & Innovation 

Rather than dictate what employees can eat, the company started off by providing a healthy snack bin available to all.  Before long, employees were making their own contributions to the “No Sin in This Bin Tin”.  Next, Brian made a policy to provide healthy meals, snacks and drinks for company and client meetings.  For the past 6 years, Brian prepares a healthy breakfast for all employees on Fridays.   However, Brian’s most successful health promoting contributions have been to support the Howard County community.  He started by creating an annual Family Wellness Day (FWD), now in its 7th year.  An average of 3,000-5,000 participate annually.  This free event is to introduce a broad base of community organizations, public and private, that share Brian’s vision for wellness.  It’s a total give back by not only Brian, but all of the organizations he brings together.

Brian utilizes the 7 benchmarks to create buy-in at the highest level and collaboration among partner organizations.  In order to push past the politics and self-interest, Brian created a partner participation agreement titled the “Spirit of the Initiative”.  This is a constant reminder that, from top down, engaged leadership builds energy and passion among partners and participants.  Leveraging the relationships and energy he has facilitated, Brian next took on the leadership role as coordinator for Get Active Howard County (GAHC).  This is a 10-week annual fitness initiative that encourages county-wide participation.  Employees and community members form teams, participate in calendar activities and track activity minutes.  Activity minutes are measured individually, by team and by total GAHC participation.   Brian noted that most activities would only support a small number of participants.  In order to expand the vision to really support the broader community, Brian had a vision to start a community wide “Boot Camp in the Park”.  He drew on 10 years of personal experience of participating in this type of activity but built on the concept to truly encourage participation by all fitness levels and ages.  He approached and enrolled a dozen volunteer trainers and created a initiative that has resulted in his vision becoming a reality.  Even before introducing the trainers, he started first with employees, neighbors and friends meeting in the park. 

He next made the opportunity a GAHC free program.  To further drive participation and partner support, he announced that the group would set a Guinness World Record for the Largest Outdoor Circuit Training”.  In 2011, they actually set the record.  But, for Brian, it was never about the record. “It’s about getting the community excited and engaged; it’s about creating a movement”.  Brian encouraged several trainers to continue at no charge to provide the opportunity on Saturday mornings.  Over 1100 individuals have now participated in at least one or more sessions to date and the free program is now in its 4th year with an average of 60 participants and growing.  Specifically the “Boot Camp in the Park” has grown an average 20% annually with average participation expected to grow to over 100/week next year.   Through leveraged partnerships, Brian expects to duplicate the model throughout the county.  Brian has recently been approached by other local organizations that want to start programs.  He is working with the local hospital to create a free “Walking 4 Wellness” community program to begin next year.

Another initiative, still in the pilot stage, is Brian’s idea for the “Healthy Happy Hour”.  This will become a quarterly gathering place, bringing together local wellness experts and community participants.  It will also serve as a public forum for communicating upcoming wellness opportunities.  The planning started with benchmark #1, gathering high level community support.   Brian is already started drilling down with other community partners who will host the “Healthy Happy Hours” on a rotating basis.


Compelling Vision 

The WELCOA certifications, materials and support have given Brian the confidence he has needed to be a leader in driving community-wide wellness efforts.  Both the Boot Camp in the Park and the Healthy Happy Hour will become GAHC key drivers to further support a county-wide wellness movement.   Most importantly, Brian’s vision in creating these community-wide wellness opportunities will provide a free platform for even the smallest employers to have access to key wellness program components just by plugging in.    In the next 5 years, the vision is that every business, regardless of size, will know about the opportunity and a compelling number of businesses will be engaged at some level:  good, better or best.

The biggest obstacle Brian faced in creating large scale community wellness opportunities has been the politics.  Too often, organizations and individuals get consumed with getting credit or using these opportunities for their own marketing.  The key to gaining traction in the broader community is building collaboration across common goals and creating broad based initiatives that result in all partners focusing their collective efforts.  By living by and sharing the “spirit of the initiative” philosophy, Brian was able to create a high level of buy-in and support from his community.   Over the next 5 years, the success of these model collaborative programs will become increasingly more important as they prove to be effective in building and sustaining exponential participation. 

Up until now, workplace wellness has been largely driven by employer provided incentives.  Employers have generally been motivated by the expectation of corporate savings which may or may not have materialized.  Going forward, the emphasis needs to be on motivation through education and demonstrated high level buy-in for employee wellbeing.  Individuals themselves need to be given the reasons and the support to take on a large part of the responsibility for their own involvement in pursuing a healthy lifestyle.

Although insurance companies have increased their involvement in wellness related communications, they have fallen short because they understand that their customer, the employer, will likely be insured elsewhere before any long term pay-back is realized.   At the highest level, our Government has yet to fully back up what they already say they understand, which is, that greater than 50% of health care costs are attributable to the everyday decisions made by individuals.   An increasing amount of our tax dollars, are paying the cost of inaction by our government in recognizing its role in educating, motivating and incentivizing a wellness revolution.   While insurance companies will not generally be rewarded for the long term impact of managing a significant percentage of health care costs, going into the future, our country will.  The new health care reform law was to include a significant tax incentive for small employers who adopt effective wellness programs.   No other action on the part of our government’s intervention could have a greater long term impact on future health care costs.  The direction and action of our government over the next 5 years could be either the greatest threat or the greatest opportunity to propel the health promotion industry and the health of our citizens, depending on their level of commitment.   Over the next 5 years, Brian’s focus will continue to be on doing everything he can to create local strong collaboration in creating free, volunteer driven, large scale community wellness initiatives.

Brian's vision is that all of the major public and private institutions focused on wellness, in Howard County Maryland, will share in the success, growth and value derived through their strong collaboration and secure it’s sustainability for our community. 





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Brian Jolles, CLU, ChFC, CASL We Promote Health Jolles Wellness Team Members Healthiest Maryland Business Free exercise equipment on the other side of this wall
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Brian J.
A convergence of events led Brian Jolles to become passionate about promoting wellness and fighting obesity. First, his career in health benefits made him acutely aware that the majority of healthcare costs are a direct result of decisions within our personal control. Smoking, poor nutrition and lack of exercise are responsible for greater than 50% of healthcare costs. Brian's father died young from heart complications and his brother from cancer. Simple adjustments could have changed their outcomes, which inspired Brian to found We Promote Health in 2007. Brian's focus is not just on insurance protection; it's on prevention and leadership to help others improve their lifestyle choices. View Brian J.'s Profile.
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Brian Jolles is the most ethical business person, the most devoted family man, the most passionate person when it comes to living life to it's fullest and encouraging others to do the same and the most giving to others without regard to getting credit or payback that I have ever known. I am so proud to call him my agent, my cousin and one of my most cherished friends. Way to go Cousin. Love ya. Dee Jolles

Dorinda J. on 11/14/2014

Brian is one of the most dynamic men I've ever had the pleasure of meeting. I've known him almost two years and every day, I am amazed by all he does for his community, his commitment to wellness, and his genuine spirit. He is one great man!

Claire R. on 11/12/2014

I am the principal of Waverly Elementary School in Howard County, Maryland. Brian Jolles, and the non-profit “We Promote Health” (WPH) has had a significant impact on our schools wellness initiatives. One of our teachers, Karen Jablon, who is also one of the original founders of WPH, introduced me to Brian about 5 years ago. He offered to provide a WeCan program to our school families which included parents and children. WeCan, which stands for Ways to Enhance Childrens Activities and Nutrition, is NIH based. Brian, however, worked with our PE teachers, Ross Chakrian and Lauren Heisey, and Karen to really personalize it. Together with, two other key volunteers on his team, Melba Phipps and Bob Giromini, they did an incredible job! Over a four week period, our parents and children learned the key elements which emphasized the importance of energy balance and taking small steps to build healthy habits. We were very excited to be the pilot program for Howard County. Now 4 years later, Brian and his team put this same free program into other county elementary schools as well. I believe one of the key ingredients to the success of the program here in Howard County is Brian’s ability to pull in other community volunteers such as yoga instructors, dieticians and personal trainers. Kathy Jacobs, Principal

Kathy J. on 11/07/2014

My wife looks forward to the weekend boot camp. Brian is so enthusiastic about this program its often hard to not participate.

Mickie L. on 11/07/2014

One might marvel that a guy with only 6 employees is 'this close' to cracking the top 20 in this list--unless you know Brian Jolles. His company may be small, but his drive to promote health and wellness throughout our county is HUGE. It's a testament to his selfless giving that it is the community that is driving his number. I have never met anyone as committed to the things he finds important as Brian and healthy living is at the top of his list. Until I read about it in one of these comments, I did not know Brian helped kick start the program he pioneered here at home in another Maryland county 4 years ago, but I'm not surprised. What Brain has accomplished with nothing more than a big idea and an even bigger action plan is simply astonishing. He has brought dozens of organizations on board to make We Promote Health a success. I truly hope he is recognized for all that he has done for our community.

Judi D. on 11/07/2014

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