ENTRY FROM: The Top 100 Health Promotion Professionals

Nominee: Leah Baxter

Living Shwell

Wellness is a passion of mine, both personally and professionally. As a Registered Dietitian, I’m faced with a challenging profession. Whether you choose to use your skills for helping those who are sick or have chronic conditions, or if you choose dedicate your career towards helping people to prevent those conditions, it is a challenge! I have accepted these challenges, and have had the privilege to work on both sides of health care. I worked in a clinical setting for over five years where I participated in the development and delivery of nutrition programs for their employee wellness initiatives. I also provided nutrition assessments and counseling for a variety of patients specializing in oncology, post-operative care, and obstetrics. My experiences from that time are invaluable to me as I carry them with me in my new health and wellness career. I’m currently in a wellness and preventative health care setting for employees of a convenience store chain, Sheetz. I am the general manager and dietitian-health coach at our “Sheetz Center for Shwellness” We reach approximately 1600 employees who are able to utilize our fitness center and provide services such as nutrition counseling, health coaching, and personal training. The company itself has over 16,000 employees so we are continually expanding our services via technology, newsletters, and wellness challenges to engage all employees, company-wide. I’ve had the extreme pleasure of helping to motivate and keep employees “Shwell” for the past 2 years in conjunction with a wellness company, LifeStart Wellness Network.

I will never forget what inspired me to become a Registered Dietitian, as it continues to inspire me on a daily basis. In high school there was a debate in one of my heath classes as to whether or not eggs were healthy. I remember thinking; this is a simple thing that science can help us to figure out! To this day, I use my nutritional science education to help others get to the bottom of current diet fads and trends and to help them decide what is the best choice for clients to be happy and healthy! I graduated from Indiana University of Pennsylvania, with a Bachelor of Science in Dietetics, summa cum laude. After completing a post graduate internship, I was able to take the registration exam to become a registered dietitian. To further my education, I obtained a Master of Science degree in Nutrition from Indiana University of Pennsylvania as well, with a GPA of 4.0. I’ve also obtained a personal training certification through the National Association of Sports Medicine, and I’m currently studying to be a certified Health Coach to assist in my wellness career.

Corporate wellness is heavily focused on keeping employees healthy; however the convenience store industry of Sheetz provides some obstacles to eating and being healthy at times. My role as a dietitian-health coach and fitness center manager is diverse, and allows me to use my skills as a dietitian to guide employees by using nutrition and fitness together to reach their goals. We offer individual nutrition and fitness (MyStart) assessments to all new employee members, which allows us to accomplish many things. Through a health risk assessment we are able to tailor our future meetings to meet their specific needs. Some new gym members don’t know how to use equipment, or don’t have a clear idea of what they want to accomplish by coming to a gym. This process helps us to safely provide them with a plan that is individual to them. We are also able to collect baseline biometric data to compare at different points in their health and wellness journey. This data is helpful for Sheetz to see overall usage of the facility and how LifeStart is contributing to the health and wellness of their employees.

Another way successful health promotion is demonstrated is through the wellness challenges and programs that I participate in developing and delivering to all Sheetz employees.  One of the corporate wellness challenges I helped developed was “The Wheel of Shwellness”. We developed our own wellness wheel based on the six categories that best fit the culture of Sheetz as well as core wellness areas. Each week an individual or team of employees demonstrated their success of meeting challenges in the areas of Nutrition, Fitness, Environmental health, Emotional health, Social well-being, and Financial well-being. We were able to use our company blog to share success stories from employees from seven different states. We had approximately 500 employees who accepted this challenge! We showed health promotion through culture change with this challenge as we used healthy items from the Sheetz stores as prizes to promote a healthy eating in the Sheetz convenience stores.

We are currently promoting a wellness program that can motivate, and inspire employees to make healthier decisions through the holidays. The average person can gain 2-10 pounds from Thanksgiving to New Years, so “Hold the Shtuffing” was designed to be the support employees want and need so this doesn’t happen to them. We provide weekly support, newsletters, and recipes to help them fully enjoy the holidays without all of the extra pounds. Last year had approximately 750 Sheetz employees who committed to “Hold their Shtuffing” This program is a great example of the small behavior changes that our most successful programs and challenges are focused on. We are very fortunate to have great support for wellness initiatives from the executive committee at Sheetz. From approving a comprehensive wellness center like ours that encompasses a state of the art fitness center, as well as a health clinic with highly qualified health care providers, and a learning center for the employees. Our CEO recently shared his own medical diagnosis, and success story in our Shwellness magazine to show his company if a busy CEO can make simple healthy lifestyle changes, then everyone can!

 I’m proud to be a leader in the fitness center and lead classes and programs in which I’m also participating. When I started my job here, I was 5 months pregnant.  I continued to teach multiple exercise classes and wellness programs. I even led an exercise class the day before I delivered my baby girl! It was important for me to show that exercise is important even when you aren’t fully capable of working out at the same level as your old self! I also was very motivated by my clients when I returned from maternity leave as I absorbed the running culture from those around me. Since then I’ve ran multiple races including two half marathons. This is something I never thought I would do! When I train at the center, others see me working hard and hopefully it shows them that busy full time working moms can fit it in too! My best advice to other wellness practitioners is to set your own health and wellness goals and try new ways along the way to meet them. This will help to make you more relatable to your target population!

The “Shwellness Center” has a culture that is one of a kind.  We are constantly challenging ourselves to get more engagement in our center. I work very closely with the Sheetz team on the best ways to get people more interested in nutrition and fitness. For example, we’ve found that just giving people healthy recipes isn’t as effective as preparing them and providing samples. Our “Fruit and Veggie Frenzy” program shows employees how to take use seasonal fruits and vegetables in their meals. This is an example of how we had to figure out a better way to establish rapport with the employees and get them engaged in our healthy activities! I’ve also worked with other leaders within Sheetz to determine the best times, and ways to offer classes and programs. Promoting programs in break areas has shown to be very effective as well. Recently we had a wellness activity where it was difficult for employees at one building to attend. I decided to have an additional event the next day at their building, and 71 employees attended! By thinking outside of our wellness center, we are able to reach more people.

My vision for the future of my role at the Shwellness center is very exciting. We are currently in the planning process for an expansion of our center. We are exploring new and exciting things we can offer in our fitness center such as a spinning room, a basketball court, and a functional training unit. My vision is to see more families attend our center to improve their health as well. We are also contemplating a healthy meals-to-go option that will be a great change from typical quick meals available. Sheetz recently signed a meaningful agreement with the Partnership for Healthy America, whose goal is to make partnerships to ensure the health of our nation’s youth by solving the childhood obesity crisis.  In the next five years, I hope to play a role in these healthy changes and that I can take my daughter to Sheetz and see many healthy meal and snack options.


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Best of luck, Leah! While on the road we visit Sheetz all the time and we love MTO sandwiches! :)

Gina D. on 11/19/2014

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