Get fit, healthy for free at Sonoma County libraries

A $30,000 federal grant is paying for free Healthy Living classes at all 12 library branches this year.|

The Sonoma County Library is known for its promotion of reading literacy for everyone from children to adults. But now, armed with a $30,000 federal grant, it plans to promote health and fitness literacy for the community.

Starting this week through May, the 12 branches of the Sonoma County Library will offer a series of free classes for all ages with the help of several community partners. The classes range from Healing Food Basics and Yoga to a Fresh from the Garden class on growing your own vegetables.

The idea was born after Jaime Anderson, division manager for the library system, did some research to identify needs in the community and came across a Sonoma County Health Needs Assessment report.

“One of the key findings ... was that healthy eating and physical fitness was a big priority in our county,” said Anderson. “Another report, Portrait of Sonoma County, found that health and well-being disparities ... are largely preventable by education.”

The grant, supported by the U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services, started on July 1 and will run through June 30, 2017, with several classes scheduled each week at various library branches.

“We wanted to ... help level the playing field for families who may not be able to join a gym or take a cooking class,” Anderson said. “The idea was to offer something for all ages.”

While applying for the grant, Anderson also reached out to several countywide groups, asking them to partner with the library in presenting the classes.

Sonoma County Family YMCA instructor Merritt Wright will give a class in Cardio Kickboxing, for example, and Bryan Peters will give a class in Gentle Stretch and Strength.

“This is an introductory class for an older population that tends to be more sedentary,” Peters said. “It’s a gentle way to introduce them to the basic parameters of fitness, which include flexibility, strength training and balance.”

Thais Harris, nutrition education program manager for the Ceres Community Project, will give a class on Healing Foods Basics, which includes a demonstration of how to make a healthy smoothie and an energy ball.

In the class, Harris also will explain the components of a health-promoting diet, including the anti-inflammatory spice turmeric, and provide inspiration for cooking with high-quality, fresh ingredients on a budget.

“The feedback I often get from students is that they feel more inspired to cook,” she said. “They gain clarity about what constitutes a health-promoting diet, including what to add first, and then what to avoid.”

Betty Smith, an instructor with the Santa Rosa Junior College, will give a meditation class that can be done sitting in a chair. Students will learn about the physical, mental and emotional benefits of the practice.

“Meditation has become a scientifically proven method of stress reduction and is prescribed for many conditions like diabetes,” Smith said. “We will actually practice some short meditations together, with lots of time for questions.”

During the winter, when it’s flu season, classes will also include a medical screening with the library’s partner St. Joseph Health, which will test for blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol.

Other winter classes will include Winter Vegetables Beyond Broccoli, with cooking expert Jill Nussinow, “The Veggie Queen”; a Family Boot Camp for kids 8 and up offered by the YMCA; an explanation of Ayurveda, a body science that treats symptoms naturally based on mental and physical type; and Senior Health Literacy.

In the spring, you can choose between Yoga for Neck and Shoulders from SRJC staff, a Funky Freestyle Fitness class from the YMCA, a gardening class from the Sonoma County Department of Health Services, and a Cooking in Season class from Nussinow.

For the physical exercise classes, participants can just show up. But classes such as Meditation for Everyone and Healing Foods require pre-registration. To sign up, call or stop by your local library branch and talk to the information/reference desk.

To help promote the program, the library also plans to offer a Healthy Living club membership, with prizes offered at the end for people who complete the program.

“Each of our 12 locations will give away one prize,” Anderson said. “We’ll be giving away an Instant Pot or a blender, some Sonoma County Regional Parks passes and maybe a Fitbit.”

The first class, Meditation for Everyone, will be held at 10 a.m. Oct. 4 at the Rincon Valley Library. For a schedule of classes, go to

Staff writer Diane Peterson can be reached at 521-5287 or On Twitter @dianepete56.

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