Melanie Seiler’s life is largely centered on, well, wellness.
Having a little fun doesn’t hurt, either.
In uncertain times like the Covid-19 pandemic, many have stressed that being outside is one of the best remedies to combat the spread of the disease.
“The Covid-19 pandemic was very difficult to navigate, but an extremely important time to continue health education campaigns and creative ways for people to stay active,” said Seiler, the executive director of Active Southern West Virginia. “We have re-launched the organization in 2021 to bring back the in-person programs.”
While her mother Susie Hofstetter’s family hails from Ohiopyle, Pa., and father Bob Seiler’s family is from the Cumberland, Md. area, Seiler grew up in Fayetteville. That gave her an appreciation for — and an understanding of — how much outdoor fun can be discovered in southern West Virginia.
Prior to her affiliation with Active SWV, Seiler worked for Adventures on the Gorge after the family rafting business, Songer Whitewater, merged with AOTG in 2011. At Songer, Seiler was the river manager for several years, vacation cabin manager, and she also spent a good deal of time doing accounts receivable and human resources duties.
She has also been a certified ski instructor for 20 years and a member of National Ski Patrol for 10 years.
“Growing up in the outdoor industry gave me the impression everyone had opportunities to jump in a raft and paddle through whitewater or meet up with friends on bike trails and climbing routes,” she said. “What drives me is later realizing the lack of access and interest in outdoor recreation by peers and my generation.
“I want to express and share opportunities for experiencing the benefits of getting active in the great outdoors.”
Her days at Active SWV currently include “a lot of administration work to keep up with funding requests and reporting,” she says. “I try really hard to provide my employees with all the tools and resources they need to do a kick-ass job.
“I spend a lot of hours on my computer, but love to get out and speak to groups about our work and free events,” she said.
Active SWV has made tremendous strides in recent years, Seiler feels.
“Active SWV was formed late in 2014 with non-profit status, and then I was hired as the only employee in February of 2015,” she said. “We quickly acquired an AmeriCorps VISTA service member and hit the streets to recruit volunteers to lead programs.
“The first couple years were challenging to structure each program area and build a brand, but it paid off and, in 2016, we secured a cooperative agreement with the New River Gorge National River (now New River Gorge National Park and Preserve), many county parks, and had a handful of kids run clubs at area elementary schools. In 2019, we had the largest cast of volunteers with over 200 individuals in our four program areas: community captains, kids run clubs, workplace wellness and bike/walk SWV.”
“I am most proud of the trusted partnerships, the individuals who have improved their lives through activity, and the staff who stay consistent and dynamic,” she added.
As the battle continues to urge children — and adults for that matter — to remain active and not focus too much on computer or phone screens and settle into a more sedentary lifestyle, Seiler says Active SWV has made progress.
“Active SWV is seeing strides in youth through our Kids Run Club grant program. Pre- and post-surveys indicate children reach the recommended amount of physical activity daily, have decreased screen time, and 75 percent reporting being able to get someone at home more active with them.
“The strides we are seeing across the region are more collective resources from agencies, organizations and the faith-based community to reach underserved families and individuals. One collaboration being Adventure Fayette County providing substance abuse prevention and the Icelandic Youth Model pairing survey data with programming solutions. This means finding the at-risk populations, understanding their challenges to access healthier choices, and building programs with a strong volunteer and mentor group.
“Through the pandemic, Active SWV has continued to work with business as members in the Active SWV Workplace Wellness program. We spend many hours of the day at work or at our computers working remotely. Implementing changes to policies, systems and environment to make the healthy choice the easy choice, has shown results in employee morale, productivity and increasing buy-in for further investments in workplace wellness.”
Each year, Active SWV — in partnership with WV Health Promotion and Chronic Disease — awards a series of Workplace Wellness Capacity Building grants to businesses across the state. This year, they sought 20 workplaces, each which will receive $1,000. The mission of these grants is to increase access to healthy food, physical activity and other supports to improve employee wellness. The application period is closed, and the winners will be announced on Oct. 1.
The agency established the Kids Run Club program in 2015 with one pilot club, and the program has since grown to reach over 30 schools and community groups throughout West Virginia, Seiler said.
“With our comprehensive Kids Run Club manual providing structure for all clubs, trained volunteers lead groups of kids through activities outlined in the manual,” she explained. “Through these activities, kids learn lifelong skills and build confidence in their physical activity abilities.
“The goal of the Kids Run Club program is for kids to have fun with physical activity and have a positive team experience. It’s important to Active SWV that the program is offered for free so that all children have an opportunity to participate.” To apply, visit https://activeswv.org/2021/07/fall-kids-run-club-mini-grant-is-now-open/.
Active SWV also sponsors an adult/family/multigenerational program known as the Community Captain program. It is a volunteer-led activity that typically meets once a week. Weekly programs in locales such as Summersville, Fayetteville, Oak Hill, Beckley and Williamson focus on running/walking, Pilates, youth disc golf, Refit, yoga, stand-up paddleboarding and bike/walking.
For example, a Fayetteville Wednesday running group in which Seiler and friends participate will have been meeting as a free run group for three years this December.
“We started the winter of 2018 thinking we would just meet on every Wednesday in December to get through the dark days of winter,” she said. “So we started meeting at 6:15 p.m. when everyone got off work and ran around the sidewalks of Fayetteville with the street lights and head lamps.
“Well, the group decided to keep meeting in January, and then February, and so on. Every three months or so we change locations and typically end at restaurant for food together. Many people have come out with the group over the years and we continue to get new people joining in.”
“The accountability of the group helps to keep people going, and me,” Seiler said. “You know your run friends are waiting on you and make the activity more fun with good company.
“Even when it is raining and snowing, we dress appropriately and still get out and go. The physical activity is good for the body and the mind and the social connection is good for the spirit.”
For more on the Community Captains program, visit https://activeswv.org/community-captains/.
Active SWV staff and volunteers have “made a difference in individuals’ lives and elevating the culture of health throughout southern West Virginia,” Seiler said. “This has been accomplished by normalizing beginner activity like walking and hiking, and having easy ways to volunteer has increased the ways to be active.
“These efforts have been well-received and volunteers find their friends, family, neighbors, co-workers are helping each other to remove barriers to living an active lifestyle like transportation, skills, equipment, child care and fear of injury. This work is even more important during the pandemic to help individuals stay healthy and active.”
Seiler, of Fayetteville, is married to Travis Hames and has stepdaughters Kalila and Delaney.
Her favorite outdoor hobbies are Telemark skiing, which is a skiing technique that combines elements of Alpine and Nordic skiing; paddleboarding and surfing.
Also among her hobbies and interests are raising chickens and going on adventures with her bird dog.
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