How the Refugee Services Office fights discrimination and empowers refugee women

Story and gallery by ALAYNIA WINTER

Approximately 60,000 refugees from all over the world live here in Utah. Unlike other traditionally red states, Republican Gov. Gary Herbert has openly pledged to keep Utah’s doors open to refugees. The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) reports at least 50 percent of refugee populations are women and girls. This means there are somewhere around 30,000 resettled women and girls attempting to pick up their lives and integrate into Utah’s society.

Women are especially vulnerable to violence when displaced or during times of war during the process of migration. According to a report by Amnesty International, women in refugee camps are raped every day while collecting water. This is just one example of the incredible hardships women face during the resettlement process. Gerald Brown, assistant director for the Refugee Services Office, said, “Five to six years ago, we realized women needed more resources. Just more.”

The Refugee Services Office (RSO), a division of Utah’s Department of Workforce Services, is a government organization filled with individuals working hard to improve the lives of refugees by assisting in finding employment, providing mental health services, and much more.

As a government organization, Refugee Services Office can’t have a volunteer program. Programs are primarily supported through the Know Your Neighbor program through the city mayor’s office. This program is very supportive, said Halima Hussein, a Somalian refugee herself and women’s refugee coordinator for RSO.

“There is always a need for more programming,” Brown said. Whether it’s funding for more women’s programs, or daily and after-school programs, help from the community is always appreciated. RSO has workshops available such as: family planning, domestic violence and sewing classes. Anyone is welcome to participate.

Issues facing women are often serious, ranging from domestic violence to public harassment stemming from antipathy to facial coverings. “If they go to the bathroom, or try to get on TRAX and someone is yelling at them — and it happens in any of those public spaces — we have [a safety escort] specifically assigned who walks with the refugee community,” said Hussein, referring to resources RSO offers to refugees when faced with abuse or harassment. She puts her hand down on the table with conviction. “But for Utah, I think compared to any other place it’s been better. I think it’s been better for our community. The community around us has been extremely supportive, including the LDS church.”

Despite the occasional incident, Hussein maintains Utah is a welcoming community. She warmly shares a story of a Utah family and a Somalian family who have become dear friends through the Know Your Neighbor Program.

There are a variety of resources available to refugees who experience discrimination or abuse. “We have a lot of mental health patients in the community, because of the trauma. And some people cope better than others,” Hussein said. “We are very big on therapy and medication — that kind of thing. We have social workers and therapists in the office who work very closely with domestic violence, sexual abuse, discrimination and gender identity issues.”

Hussein is highly respected, Brown said, and many women feel comfortable speaking to either her or Asha Parekh, the organization’s director. However, the caseload is large and Hussein is often stretched thin. “Halima is one of the few resources we have for these women,” Brown said.

In addition to struggling with roadblocks such as language and cultural barriers or not having a car, female refugees also face additional hindrances stemming from lack of equal opportunities and sociocultural factors. Such opposition can substantially hinder establishing friendships and support systems, which can lead to unhealthy alienation, depression and loneliness.

Due to a lack of trusted confidants and support systems, women refugees often struggle with having limited resources in talking about certain sensitive, yet vital topics. Brown said, women are often not comfortable discussing complex family issues, physical or sexual abuse, or hygiene issues in front of men and the organization needs Utah women to be involved.

The Refugee Services Office is committed to empowering women by also strengthening their families. Alexx Goeller, youth services coordinator for RSO, works directly with Utah school districts to help refugee families to know their rights and facilitate success in refugee children’s education.

Refugee women frequently struggle to communicate with their children and with the education system after resettling here in Utah. Goeller said, “Often families will know a kid is acting out and don’t know why and when we hear about things like this, we will facilitate a meeting with a translator.” Schools are legally mandated to communicate with parents in their native language, she said. RSO works diligently to partner with translation services and companies. Sending home letters to parents in their native languages is the school’s responsibility.

“It is costly for school and some schools are better than others,” Goeller said. “It’s important that schools are cognizant that New American families have different needs. It’s not that they don’t want to be involved, often they just don’t have the resources to now how.”

In many instances, refugee children’s parents aren’t able to communicate with the teachers, Halima said. The language barrier is much easier to overcome for children than for adults.

“For women to have stronger families, we really need to work with their kids especially because school is so hard for them” Hussein said. “Some will drop out and go to wrong places. The school system here is according to age and you cannot put a child who studies from kindergarten here and has had all the privileges from the school system in the same level.”

The Utah State Board of Education has been a huge support as far as letting families know their rights when it comes to education, said Goeller. The Utah Education Network (UEN) has a website that is designed for supporting refugees and Utahns in finding resources for education.  There are also parent resources specifically for refugee parents, such as translations in 30 languages.

“We see a lot of kids that get really discouraged because they can’t catch up in school or can’t learn English fast enough. We see these kids getting involved in gangs, or substance abuse,” Goeller said. “When we hear about these situations we have social workers visit the families and become involved.”

Despite the many barriers and setbacks refugees face, Hussein firmly believes in the perseverance and resilience of refugees. She has seen many positive changes and is hopeful for the future.

Looking forward, Halima hopes to see thriving, self-sufficient communities. She believes a more personalized and collaborative approach would empower communities to better serve members who are struggling.

“There are 17 communities, each with a woman leader. … So, my dream is to see each community apply for grants and do their own thing,” Hussein said. “And each community can work on something they need specifically. Maybe one community needs to focus on health issues. They can start their own programs — community-based programs. That’s my dream.”

Hussein encourages Utahns to dig deeper and to build friendships with communities that may be different from the mainstream population. “Some people see refugees, but don’t really know them. Many people are surprised by what they find.”

To get involved, read about opportunities to work with refugees in Salt Lake City.

 

 

Refugees given tools to adjust to a new culture

Story by SCOTT FUNK

What makes a home? Is it the people you live with, or is it the pictures and decorations within the house? Is it the home-cooked meals, or the fun and games with family and friends? No matter what it is, a home can be defined in many ways. However, leaving the place you call home often is only described in one way: difficult.

Gerald Brown, the Utah state refugee coordinator and assistant director of the Refugee Services Office, has dedicated his life to helping refugees.

Throughout his lifelong career, he has constantly been “trying to make the world a little more fair.” He has found his motivation to do his work based off what he has seen and experienced. “Leaving their country is difficult and traumatic,” Brown said. “And the resettlement process is just as difficult and often traumatic.”

On a daily basis, Brown works side-by-side with the International Rescue Committee (IRC) developing programs designed to make the resettlement process less traumatic. One of these programs that the IRC has established is called Adjustment Support Groups.

Jennica Henderson, the mental health program coordinator for the IRC in Utah, said in a phone interview that the curriculum of these groups consists of three parts: adjusting to the U.S. and a new culture; mental health; stress management and community wellness and development.

Henderson said the curriculum was designed by a company in Seattle called Pathways to Wellness. She said the curriculum and groups are designed to “provide education and skill development around mental health and well-being. It is also designed to develop community support for one another so that our participants can rely on one another.”

Following the curriculum, refugees participate in an eight-week course featuring a new topic weekly that falls under one of the three key concepts of the curriculum. These topics in order are: introduction to the group and establishing guidelines and rules; culture shock and moving from one country to another; refugee experience; mental health and tools to overcome stress; mind and body connection; goals and dreams.

Adjustment Group at the Central Park Community Garden. Photo courtesy of New Roots SLC.

In Utah, these groups are just getting underway, as they have only been in use since fall 2016. They are funded by grants and currently run in the spring, summer and fall and are only offered to women. However, the program is expanding to start its first male group in spring 2018.

For now, the program meets at the Central Park Community Garden, located at 2825 S. 200 East in Salt Lake City.

The signup process for the group is simple: there is none. When a refugee is resettled, their location is saved within a database. Henderson said one of the goals of the program is to make the ability to attend as easy as possible. Therefore, once a location for the group is chosen, based on their geographical location, refugees are then called and invited to attend.

When invited, refugees are asked what day and time would work best for their schedules. Based on the results, a day and time is chosen that is best suited for the majority. Refugees are also informed in that call that the IRC provides transportation to and from the meetings, food and childcare for who attend.

In Utah, up to three separate support groups are offered at once. These groups are led by three instructors — Jennica Henderson, Alex Haas and Sara Franke — all of whom are employees of the IRC and have completed hands-on training to know the curriculum and know how to best help the refugees in their process of settling in a new culture.

One of the instructors, Alex Haas, said in a phone interview that he believes these groups are helping refugees become self-sufficient and that they are creating a “community of wellness.”

As refugees come and participate in the program, they meet new people and develop new relationships. Although the programs may never replace everything that a refugee lost, they are succeeding in what they were meant to do: helping resettle in a new home.

Refugees planting new roots in Utah

Story by SCOTT FUNK

War. Persecution. Death. Three things that many people in other countries across the world have to face on a daily basis. They go through life living in their homeland in fear. They’re left with two options: Stay in the country and risk death, or flee for survival. Many choose to stay, but many choose to become refugees.

Aden Batar, director of immigration and refugee resettlement for Catholic Community Services and a Somali refugee himself, said, “Becoming a refugee is the most difficult process a human being can go through. When you’re in your country, you either face the hard condition of leaving, or you die. Looking back, I don’t know how I did it, but when you don’t have a choice, you just want a new place to survive.”

According to a letter to Gov. Gary Herbert included in the Utah Refugee Services Office 2016 report, 1,200 refugees have been resettled in Utah annually by the CCS and International Rescue Committee.

The refugees who are resettled in Utah can choose from different programs to help them adapt to a new culture. One option is the New Roots Program, organized and managed by the IRC.

The New Roots program has the moto: “The food is local. The story is global.” Its purpose, according to the website, is to “enable refugees to celebrate their heritage and nourish themselves and their neighbors by planting strong roots – literally – in their new communities.”

The program consists of three parts: Community Gardening, Micro-Training Farm Program and the Sunnyvale Farmers Market.

Community Gardening Program

This program is designed to help the emotional well-being of the refugees as they try to adjust to a new country, culture and way of life.

Central Park 1. Photo credit New Roots SLC

In this program, plots of land (approximately 14 feet by 20 feet for 100 total square feet) are reserved for local refugees and their families throughout the Salt Lake community to grow crops from their home country and to come together as a community. Alex Haas, community garden program coordinator, said it is their opportunity to not only work, but also to provide for their family while connecting with others who may come from the same circumstance. There are 15 different gardens throughout the valley that refugees have access to.

Also within this program, Haas said, is the opportunity to meet as a group to develop skills and become accustomed to the new society they are in. Within these adjustment groups refugees can discuss their feelings, learn skills such as how to deal with anger, stress, depression and ultimately become self-sustained as they build a new home.

“The purpose of our community gardening program and adjustment groups is to help refugees become self-sustaining moving forward,” Haas said.

He also said in a phone interview that the gardens are a way to remind refugees of home and that they give them “a sense of comfort, while they enjoy cultural foods, and while they build a community of wellness.”

Micro-Training Farm Program

The next step in the New Roots program is the farming aspect. After resettled refugees have participated in the community gardens for a year, they have an opportunity to work on larger plots of lands at the Redwood Road Micro-Training Farm, located at 3060 S. Lester St. in West Valley City, to continue their farming.

Local refugee farming at the Redwood Farm. Photo credit New Roots SLC

Jordan Bryant, manager of the IRC’s New Roots program, said in a phone interview that the farm is maintained by generous grants and donations. The farmers pay different amounts for seeds and plants from their heritage, and tools to grow them to bring their home to Utah.

Currently, Bryant said, there are about 33 farmers who are there on a constant basis. These farmers, each of whom were once strangers, develop a community with one another as they work together to grow and sell their crops at local farmer’s market.

Although it is not the main source of income for their families, the refugees rely on the farming as a source of income for their families. At the same time, they continue to develop relationships and friendships with the other refugees around them.

“It’s more than just a job,” Bryant said. “It’s that they gain access to their home and people to socialize with.”

Sunnyvale Farmers Market

Local refugees buying produce at the Sunnyvale Farmers Market. Photo credit New Roots SLC

The Sunnyvale Farmers Market, located at 4013 S. 700 West in Salt Lake City, gives the refugee farmers the opportunity to provide for their family by taking the food they grow and selling it.  It is also an opportunity to bring food from cultures around the world to the refugee community.

“The farmers market is a great opportunity for income,” Bryant said. “Although it’s not their main source of income, for some it does provide a substantial amount for their family. It also is a community benefit by providing food from the countries of the refugees that are in the community.”

Escaping persecution is a long journey. But after choosing to leave their home to survive, the New Roots program has given refugees the opportuntiy to bring a piece of their culture to Utah.

 

Beyond mental health: welcoming refugees to Utah

Story and photos by ALAYNIA WINTER

“Everything.”

That was the resounding answer from the three refugee panelists who spoke on Sept. 23, 2017, following a documentary movie screening held at The Leonardo museum in Salt Lake City. Each was asked the question: “What were the most difficult aspects of transitioning to living in Utah?”

Everything is different. The weather. The food. The language. The culture and customs. The ethnicity.

Visitor information is posted on the front door of the IRC located at 221 S. 400 West in Salt Lake City.

One of the panelists, Kamal Bewar, came to the U.S. as a refugee from Iraqi Kurdistan during the Iraqi Kurdish Civil War at 22 years old. Since then he has made Utah his home.

“I have been fortunate to have had people who made a difference and made me feel welcome. It has been the individuals who have made the difference in my life,” said Bewar during the event.

He is an example of a political refugee who has successfully created a new life after arriving with close to nothing. Bewar graduated with a Ph.D. from Argosy University in higher educational leadership. He now has a flourishing career working at Salt Lake Community College. He also is president of the Kurdish Community of Utah.

So, what happens when refugees arrive in Utah? First, they are welcomed by International Rescue Committee or another resettlement organization. After they have food and shelter and immediate safety, they are given English classes and tasked with adapting to the new environment.

What is the western answer to this often traumatic experience? IRC, Department of Child and Family Services (DCFS) and many other organizations offer therapy, medication and mental health programs. These programs are beneficial. However, the clinical concept of mental health may be foreign to some New Americans.

Hannah Fox, who was an intern at IRC before accepting a position as a social worker with DCFS said a problem many healthcare workers, social workers and others are seeing, is a systemic disconnect in the way we, as Americans, understand other cultures — and vice versa.

The IRC is nestled between The Rose Establishment and the historic W. S. Henderson Building.

“Our programs take mental health from a very western perspective,” Fox said, “versus where many of them [refugees] come from, they likely do not. So, while we might diagnose and medicate, they might believe in a spiritual or traditional folk remedy.” Visibly exasperated, Fox added, “So when they go to health care workers, and they give them a western experience of mental health care, it really f**** with them. It discourages them from trying again.”

What is found to be actually helpful, said Fatima Dirie, refugee coordinator for the University of Utah, is making a community. Once the programs are over, it’s the relationships and friendships made that create lasting change and true integration.

“As a community, we are not there yet,” Dirie said. “To truly feel welcomed you have to understand each other.”

Fox added, “With refugees that is their ‘therapy.’ It’s home and it’s talking about their culture. It’s sharing their experiences on their terms — not just some white person who has a degree behind a desk.”

Utahns can help make people feel welcome by saying hello, simply smiling, or inviting someone over for dinner. If interested, sign up for a Family Mentor Program, or complete a volunteer orientation at IRC.

Fostering meaningful relationships is what truly matters.

 

Community remains in the heart of Salt Lake City refugees

Story and photo by HAYDEN S. MITCHELL

All over the world refugees are fleeing their homes from violence, oppression and fear. These families are all looking for a new place to live where they can feel safe. In 2016, Utah became home to a little over 1,200 refugees from multiple countries: Iraq, Iran, the Congo, Somalia and Sudan. The New Americans are experiencing the shock and awe of a new country and culture, places that are vastly different than anything they had ever seen before, according to a PBS story.

When first coming to Utah, refugees have a variety of feelings and emotions ranging from exhilaration to fear. Two individuals, Aden Batar and Romeil Analjok, who have resettled in Utah, discussed how similar their experiences were. They were introduced to a different language, new environments, foreign foods and smells. Add to that, they said the residents of Salt Lake City dressed and acted differently than they had seen before in their home countries. This can create an overwhelming burden for any refugee.

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Romeil Analjok, holding a trophy his daughter won playing basketball. Sports helped the family feel like a part of the community.

“It’s America man, of course it is going to be crazy. I did not know what to expect when my family first came here,” said Romeil Analjok, a refugee from Sudan, who created a new home for himself and his family in Utah in 2004. “Language was the biggest problem along with not knowing anybody … so I enrolled in school hoping to learn English and meet new people.”

While at school, Analjok met a couple of people whom he remains friends with today. He was grateful that they interacted with him during his first few days in class. He did not know how they would talk to him or act around him, but they treated him like everyone else, with respect. Analjok appreciated how quickly he made friends. It made the transition from Sudan to Utah easy and encouraged him that he could create a home for his family and be a part of a community once again.

“Romiel’s story is common for many [who are] moving their families,” said Francis Mannion, a priest who has seen an increase in refugee parishioners within his parish. They need somewhere to start.

For this reason, there are organizations like the International Rescue Committee or Catholic Community Services that will help new arrivals. These groups are in place to assist with the transition and make an adjustment easier for refugees coming to the United States.

In addition to established organizations, becoming part of an open and caring community is vital to helping families transition into a new community. Community allows refugees to make new friends, participate in all sorts of activities, or even worship together. Mannion made it clear that faith is not the predominant force that makes it easier for those going through the refugee process — it is community. A community can hold people up when they struggle the most.

“Every week in Sudan, we gathered with our friends and family, just celebrating everything good we had in life,” Analjok said. “I was happy to be a part of something every week … it gave me something to look forward to.”

Analjok said he felt out of sorts until he found a stable, welcoming community. He treasures it. In his community were fellow refugees from the Sudan who generously donated their time to helping him find friends and a new church, Saint Patrick’s, located at 1058 W. 400 South in Salt Lake City. Becoming involved with this church allowed Analjok some networking in the business world, eventually leading to a new job opportunity.

He said finding a new community can be a lifesaver for refugees. Without this connection, families and individuals can sometimes feel like they are on their own. Typically the countries that these refugees are coming from have a strong sense of community. They must rely on each other significantly to survive, eat and exist. This is why it can be such a challenge for refugees in America because it is solely their responsibility to provide for themselves and their families.

“Having a strong, loyal community around you will always make everything easier in life,” said Mannion, pastor at St. Vincent de Paul. “As refugee families come to church through the years, you can see the change happen. They start off nervous and still, and gradually became an active member of the community.”

Aden Batar, immigration and refugee resettlement director with Catholic Community Services, said refugees can have a hard time adjusting because they are coming from a life we have very little knowledge of. Life in countries like Iran, Sudan and Somalia is not easy. Batar, a refugee from Somalia who now helps other refugees in the resettlement process, said it is a real struggle every day for people living there to provide for their families and keep them safe. He said families are forced to flee because they are being oppressed or they fear potential threat and violence. Batar added that most people never anticipate leaving their home and are not prepared when it happens.

Such disruption can negatively impact people and even cause Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in many individuals, Batar said.

Analjok said, “When we came to Utah we were welcomed by a lot of refugees who came here before us.”  He reiterated the importance of community to his family’s resettlement. “They made me very comfortable and treated me well. It was also nice to see them all doing well,” he said. “It gave me hope for me and my family.”

Homelessness does not mean hopelessness

Story and photos by SHANNON O’CONNOR

From an outsider’s point of view, a homeless person on the side of the road may look intimidating or unapproachable.

“I usually don’t pull over or stop to donate money because I feel like they will waste the money on drugs,” said Sadie Swenson, a Westminster College student. Swenson’s reasoning is a common opinion, but that isn’t always the case.

All homeless people don’t have the same story. They come from different backgrounds and are on the streets for various reasons.

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Francis Reeding standing on the corner of 400 S. 600 East in Salt Lake City.

Francis Reeding, 65, stands on the streets of downtown Salt Lake City for about six hours a day,  hoping to get enough gas money to go home to California. He has been living out of his car for three months.

Reeding fought in the Vietnam War starting in 1968. When he got home from the war, in 1970, he experienced hearing loss and suffered from Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. Later, Reeding went to the University of Utah in 1976 as a math major. But since then he has struggled to keep a job. Now he feels hopeless and apathetic to get his life back on track.

“It’s embarrassing standing out here holding this dang sign,” Reeding said.

Although it is common to see people holding up a cardboard sign, it does not mean they are all the same. The homeless need a helping hand and The Road Home, located at 210 S. Rio Grande St., can get them off the streets and into housing.

The Road Home is the biggest homeless shelter in Utah and is always ready to help men, women, children and families.

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The front of the Road Home located at 210 S. Rio Grande St. in Salt Lake City.

“Everyday I see people that I think are beyond hopeless and I see them make it and overcome homelessness,” said Celeste Eggert, Road Home development director.

Eggert has been with the agency for 17 years and has been the development director for 12 years. She fell in love with the shelter because of the clients’ strength and courage and she loves the mission of the Road Home.

The mission is to educate people about shelter and housing and to “get people out of homelessness and back into the community,” Eggert said.

How does this get accomplished? By the effectiveness and success of their programs: Permanent Supportive Housing, Rapid Rehousing and the emergency shelter.

“Collaboration is huge, many of the programs we’ve done have gotten national attention,” Eggert said.

Palmer Court is part of the Permanent Supportive Housing program. Palmer Court, located on 99 S. Main St., is an apartment complex that was purchased by the Road Home. It houses up to 300 of its chronically homeless clients. The chronic clients are people who have been homeless for one year or longer due to mental illness, addiction, or substance abuse. When they live at Palmer Court they sign a lease and pay rent that is reasonable with their income.

Eggert explained how the chronic clients need a slow transition from homelessness to living in housing. Being homeless is all they know and they’re scared of change, on top of trying to combat their personal trials. Specialists are needed for the severe cases. The Road Home is considered to be the general practitioner and they bring in the specialists.

“We try to collaborate, never duplicate services and work closely together,” Eggert said.

The agency partners with people who specialize in a variety of the clients’ necessities, such as jobs, rehabilitation, free medical care, school enrollment for the Salt Lake City districts and therapy. The combination of the staff, specialists and housing is designed to provide Palmer Court clients with a path to recovery.

Rapid Rehousing is the homeless family program. In 2009, it was brought to light that there was an increase in homeless families. Since the program was launched the Road Home reports that “87% of families on that program will never be homeless again.”

What is provided through Rapid Rehousing? According to the website, the families are offered “barrier elimination, housing placement assistance, short term subsidies and supportive services,” until they can get back on their feet.

The third program is the emergency shelter. This is for the clients who need a roof over their head for 24 hours. The men’s and women’s shelters consist of beds, bathrooms, showers, microwaves and hygienic products.

Elise Adams was homeless for five months and never stayed in a shelter.

“They have all these rules and they’re usually run by a church so the rules are often arbitrary. I think it’s easier to sleep in a park undisturbed,” said Adams, who uses a male pronoun.

Once he was informed that the Road Home is not a religious shelter, and there is the emergency shelter program, he admitted he would have stayed there.

Eggert said, “We don’t give up on people, we’re always going to work with them.”

Helping the homeless is financially beneficial for Utah and the community. But more importantly, it’s saving people’s lives. The majority of the beds are used by the clients who stay six months or more. Once individuals get the proper help, they can move up to housing and reach their full potential.

Eggert admits it’s a challenging population to work with. But she said it’s worth it because the staff, donors and volunteers are making a difference. The Road Home is a shelter that recognizes the clients’ unique situations and offers the support needed to overcome homelessness.

Body Buddies, a Salt Lake City fitness company, changes lives

Story and photos by DAVID FISHER

Working at a desk in an investment firm office was the last thing Kristy Jo Hunt wanted to do for the rest of her life. She decided to take one of the biggest risks she has ever been faced with. Hunt, 28, created her own independently-run nutrition and fitness business known as Body Buddies, without any prior experience in the field of business.

In addition, Hunt was not always a fitness guru.

Three years ago, Hunt was overweight and a victim of binge eating. She also suffers from severe scoliosis. Orthopedic doctors had told her that by age 40 she could be in a wheel chair if she did not change her eating habits and stay active because of her deformed back.

Kristy Jo Hunt poses in the gym after working with a client.

Kristy Jo Hunt poses in the gym after working with a client.

However, she conquered her struggles, gained a newfound interest in the field of health and wellness and worked toward her goals of becoming a professional dancer and fitness instructor.

This new interest eventually motivated Hunt to become a certified personal trainer and fitness nutrition specialist through the National Academy of Sports Medicine. She made drastic changes to her lifestyle, and wanted to help others make lifestyle changes as well. Thus, Body Buddies was launched in January 2014.

Hunt put together a business plan through watching multiple business startup podcasts, attending start-up business conferences and seeking advice from friends and family. She had to make some personal sacrifices along the way, including quitting her full-time job and learning to live off of $20,000 a year.

Those sacrifices underscored her commitment to seeing the success of her clients and independent business.

“Body Buddies is first a people thing, then secondly a business,” Hunt says.

Education is an important aspect of her business model.

Hunt provides weekly coaching calls and meal plans for clients in Utah. The coaching includes a fat loss and muscle gaining workout regime that clients follow on a six-days-a-week basis for 12 weeks. Each workout plan is individualized based on a survey clients fill out at the beginning of this lifestyle change. Questions include food preferences, any kind of physical ailments and a daily schedule.

Clients who pay a base fee of $50 also have access to 250 power food recipes that are full of protein, replace unwanted fats and increase energy levels. Every recipe is taken from her own published cookbook, The Power Foods Lifestyle.

An example of a power foods recipe is Hunt’s chicken ranch slaw burritos. These are a healthy alternative to any kind of processed burrito that is often found in the grocery store. Many of her recipes are healthy replacements to microwaveable freezer meals.

Chicken ranch slaw burritos are one of the many available recipes Hunt provides in her cookbook

Chicken ranch slaw burritos are one of the many available recipes Hunt provides in her cookbook.

“You are the master of yourself,” Hunt explains. “I provide the base, and you create the results.”

Body Buddies originally started with only 50 clients. It now has more than 1,000 clients. Hunt manages multiple client binders, calendars and daily scheduled emails and lists. She even has clients from around the globe in places such as Africa and Europe.

Hunt provides daily coaching calls to her clients. This is where they truly open up about themselves and achieve the results they want to see. She speaks to the individual over the phone and finds out what is and isn’t keeping them motivated. If clients have any questions about their diet, workouts, or life in general. Hunt is available to provide answers.

Some of the best results Hunt has ever seen came from her client, Amy Bellamy, in Salt Lake City. Bellamy has been a client of Hunt’s for almost a year, and has stuck with the Power foods lifestyle the entire time. Hunt explains that Bellamy was constantly motivated to achieve her goals of having a bikini body.

Amy's amazing body transformation from following Hunt's coaching

Amy Bellamy was able to transform her body by following Hunt’s coaching. Photo courtesy of BodBuds Instagram.

Hunt filmed and produced 100 instructional workout videos for her Body Buddies YouTube channel. It was through this channel that many of her clients discovered her business. These videos create an easy and accessible way for clients to understand how to successfully utilize all of their muscles while working out in the gym. For example, clients learn how to successfully perform a seated row weight lift to activate muscles both in their back and in their arms.

Through Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest, Hunt has created a successful way to market to a wide audience of clients.  Hunt has more than 7,000 followers on social media.

Instagram is her main method of gaining followers. She posts workout videos, before-and-after result photos of her clients and motivational quotes every day. It is a quick way to instantly communicate to her followers. However, these posts are only previews of what can come from the full Body Buddies experience.

"The Power Foods Lifestyle" is available for purchase on Hunt's website.

“The Power Foods Lifestyle” is available for purchase on Hunt’s website. Image courtesy of Hunt.

By using hashtags such as #FitFan, #CleanEats and #WeightLossJourney, Hunt has gained public attention of her Instagram posts. These are hashtags that people wanting to start their own fitness journey investigate. Clients see her social media posts and then reach out to her to receive her coaching to start their own fitness journeys. She wants to be the person to help change clients’ lifestyles and make them love their bodies.

Instagram user Tyler Griffin, 23, a student at the University of Utah who uses the handle TGriff08, is a client and one of Hunt’s many followers. “Although I finished my 12-week program with Kristy back in September of 2014 as part of a reshaping of my body during the summer, I still follow her to seek constant new ways to work out, discover new recipes and see the success of many other of her clients who went through the same process that I did,” he says.
Griffin had lost more than 15 pounds during the 12-week process and gained a tremendous amount of muscle to his body. When grocery shopping, he is more aware of the foods that are beneficial to his lifestyle so he can maintain that muscle build that he worked for. 
“There were times when I felt like I wasn’t going to stick to this intense 12- week program,” Griffin says. “But Kristy provided a constant motivational push to keep working for my final goal — and I reached that goal, and I felt like a completely new person when I started my final fall semester.”
Griffin has referred multiple family members and friends to Body Buddies so they could achieve the same lifestyle changes that he accomplished with Hunt’s help.
One such friend was Brooke Legeman, 19, of Salt Lake City who started working with Hunt two weeks ago in hopes of removing the freshman 15 that she gained this past year.
“Being a part of the Body Buddies program is something that I want to commit myself towards to start a completely new health lifestyle,” Legeman said in a phone interview. “Kristy is helping me balance school, work and my fitness goals so that I can achieve the success that I want to achieve. I feel like I am in control of my body and making it back into the shape that I once had … or maybe in even better shape.”
Legeman finds herself going to the gym almost every day now, and avoiding all of the fast food that she was guilty of eating during her freshman year.

Hunt has started her own motivational seminars that she calls “Girls Night Out.” These empowering presentations are held at Salt Lake City gyms. Hunt wants to change the way clients think about themselves, and have their bodies reflect the changes that they can see.

“I’m not a feminist, I’m an empowerist,” Hunt says. “Integrity is the name of the game for people in life. Know where your integrity is at, and never let it crumble.”

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