Terri Givens is involved in numerous causes and campaigns. As a scholar and professor, she focuses on the global politics of immigration. As an activist, she has served on the Board of Directors for KLRU and the YWCA as well as an advisor for the International Hospitality Council of Austin.
But it was an intensely personal experience that led to her most recent, passionate initiative. Twelve years ago, her father passed away from a sudden heart attack. Then, in 2005, her mother suffered a stroke from which she never fully recovered. She, too, passed away three years later.
"What I learned was that strokes are just as bad as heart attacks," Givens says. "My father had all the potential warning signs for a potential heart attack, yet he had never been given a stress test and didn't seem concerned when he had circulation issues just a few weeks before he died."
Cardiovascular disease had touched her life in a very personal way — both through her family, and because of her ethnicity. "Blacks are much more likely to have cardiovascular disease, and not all of it can be explained by lifestyle or genetic traits," Givens says. "Study after study, I learned about showed that blacks had a much higher rate of obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, and death from heart disease. Health disparities are a critical issue for all communities."
Givens felt lucky that fitness had always been part of her life, but the death of her parents spurred her into action for others. "I wanted to do something that would honor their memories, and also help to improve health outcomes in the minority community." Take Back the Trail was the result of her efforts.
"Low income women don't necessarily have access or the resources to well-designed fitness programs, and I wanted to be able to provide something that was free, but that also helped them learn how to fit exercise and eating right into their daily lives." - Terri Givens
"Everyone's lives seems to be so hectic, and it's so easy to grab fast food or processed food, and so it's hard to stay fit. However, fitness is critical to health and wellness, and I think it's important to help people find ways to fit exercise and eating right into their lives."
Givens decided to focus on low-income women, and in particular to work toward exposing women in East Austin to the tools they needed to improve their health. She developed an eight-week, evidence-based fitness program that incorporates physical activity, nutrition education and group discussions, with an aim to let these women take back their hearts, health and communities to maintain a healthier lifestyle.
Not only that, but the program is offered for free.
"Low income women don't necessarily have access or the resources to well-designed fitness programs, and I wanted to be able to provide something that was free, but that also helped them learn how to fit exercise and eating right into their daily lives," Givens explains.
Yeni Woodall was one of the first participants of Take Back the Trail, taking part in both the spring and fall 2012 pilot programs. "Working with a group is a lot more fun that working alone," Woodall says.
"It was also nice to spend time with other women. Sometimes we get so busy with our children's activities, work, cleaning the house, etc.; we forget to socialize, spend time with other women, and take care of ourselves. Take Back the Trail created opportunities to share our experiences as mothers, caregivers, workers, athletes and women."
Woodall particularly enjoyed the cardio and strength workouts, Zumba, and the instructions on how to continue the workouts at home. "Take Back the Trail is not just about working out and going home, like any other program or belonging to a gym. It's a life-changing program to teach you to take back your life, your energy and yourself."
Take Back the Trail just started its third eight-week program for spring 2013; so far for its entire first year, the program has been solely self-funded through some inheritance money that Givens received. She and Tricia Forbes, who handles organizational development for the nonprofit, began to grow frustrated about funding options to sustain the program into the future. "Who really cares about these women, anyway?" Givens asked in exasperation.
The question gave Forbes an idea. "I thought, let's ask Austin who does care about the health and wellness of low-income women of color in East Austin. Terri cares enough to have spent her inheritance on TBTT; who, who else?" The program recently went under the umbrella of local non-profit Southwest Key, allowing it to accept grants and tax-deductible donations as a 501(c)(3).
Take Back the Trail has created a two-month campaign that runs from April 1 to May 31, 2013. The campaign, called 100 Women Who Care, aims to have 100 women donate just $100 each, which will raise $10,000 for Take Back the Trail.
"Since the program is so cost effective, that's enough to take us through the rest of 2013, if we do one more session in the fall, and will give us time to raise grant funding, too," says Forbes. "We want to specifically target middle and upper income women who work out and care about their own health and fitness." The campaign is also being conducted on Facebook.
"It doesn't matter which trail you are on or what gets you going," Givens says. "What is important is that the trail starts in our own homes and that we are all on a journey together."