Donors help transform OKC Community through Men's Focused Fit Club

Two years ago, south Oklahoma City resident Troy Newton was faced with a very
grim future. His health was in crisis, and he needed to make drastic wellness changes
to reclaim his life back. And that’s when he found INTEGRIS’ free community-based
fitness program, Men’s Fit Club, targeted toward African American men facing high-risk
health conditions.

Two years and more than 100 pounds lost later – there’s no slowing Troy down. And
he credits INTEGRIS’ Men’s Fit Club program and his coach, whom this burgeoning
group of enthusiastic participants has dubbed their “Fitness Drill Sergeant.” That is
Sergeant Bilal Konte to those he inspires twice a month in the Grant High School gym.

Konte’s name is rising in popularity throughout the Oklahoma City community due
to his passion to educate and transform the health of African Americans. Konte, a
former Marine and fitness instructor, who some call “the People’s Trainer,” saw that
many African American men wanted to get healthy, but much of the information out
there confused them, and many had no idea where to start. Konte dreamed of
teaching these men a holistic approach to healthy eating and exercising − one that
wouldn’t just help them lose weight − but would transform the way they
thought about eating and exercise.

His dream came true when he met Steve Petty. As director of men’s health initiatives
at INTEGRIS, Petty had noticed that poor habits take their toll on men’s health −
especially as men approach middle age and retirement − which led him to launch a
men’s health initiative called Men’s Health University that included free screenings,
physician seminars and wellness fairs.

Thanks to donations through the INTEGRIS Foundation Golf Classic in 
2013, Konte’s passion for transforming an entire community within 
Oklahoma City was realized. In January of this year, he launched the
African American Men’s Fit Club with funds from INTEGRIS donors. 

Twice a week he runs a full-body, 60-minute resistance training session. However,
Konte has become more than a trainer to this community; he also functions as a
dietitian, counselor, life coach and friend. 

He says, “Exercise IS medicine. I wanted to get them off the pills to fix the
problem, and out of their power chairs. I wanted them off the soda and on
to fruits and vegetables.With the right tools and information they can go
from sick to fit.” He continues, “You’ve heard of rehab? Well, this is prehab.”

Finding participants for Men’s Fit Club didn’t come easy at the beginning. He and his
street team canvased local churches and blanketed local stores. For the first workout
session, only eight men attended.

But slowly, word-of-mouth spread, and now most classes number around 65.
Interestingly, as the men started feeling better and seeing results, they began bringing
along their wives and children so that they, too, could participate in these health
transformations. Now each class has male and female participants who range in age from
an 8-year-old boy to an 80-year-old bishop. When embarking on a new participants drop
out after six weeks.Yet at the Men’s Fit Club, after 36 weeks, 80 percent of the participants
continue the program.

The meetings have become more than workout sessions; they are now community
gatherings, where friendships have formed. Felix Derousselle, a participant in the
program since January who has lost 20 pounds, says, “We are all in the neighborhood.
We have little dinners together, we exercise together, and we have fellowship. The
camaraderie is the best.”

But for Troy, the benefits are more personal. “Quite simply, the program is
a lifesaver. I have overcome obstacles that I could only dream of months ago,”
he says. “I have gained a friend in myself, one whose purpose is defined by
getting moving. I’m a different person now.”

Whether a participant’s gains are more personal or community-oriented, without the
generosity of donors, these transformations wouldn’t exist. It is certain that philanthropy
has been used to transform a community, and this is only the beginning.