Mayor Carter

Team Saint Paul, I continue to be inspired by all of you every day and I’m thrilled for what lies ahead of us in 2019. Together, we achieved great things in the past year like raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour, establishing our Office of Financial Empowerment, tripling our free recreation center programming, and creating an unprecedented $10 million housing trust fund.
The investments we’ve made in our city ensure we are building a Saint Paul that truly works for all of us. We are also creating a healthy, vibrant, and sustainable community that can meet our needs today, and positions our city to be a place our children and grandchildren want to live.

Realizing this vision for a healthy, vibrant, and sustainable community now and in the future, starts with ensuring we can all lead full, healthy lives.

I was fortunate to grow up in a household where our parents were passionate about health and fitness, and instilled in my sisters and me a holistic perspective on wellness. They encouraged all of us to participate in athletic activities from a very early age. They also instilled in us the idea that health and wellness are not just about physical exercise, or eating your vegetables and getting a good night’s sleep. Healthy living encompasses physical, mental and spiritual wellness. When our body, mind, and soul feels nourished, we can fully realize our potential.
Growing up, I had the opportunity to play tennis, hockey, and run track & field. Running is something I continue to enjoy today. Whether it’s running several miles around my neighborhood, joining one of many local 5K races with my wife, Dr. Sakeena Futrell-Carter, or running with our “We Run Saint Paul” employee group, I find this activity to be one of my favorite ways to stay healthy, and connected with my family, colleagues and our community.

We each have unique health needs and interests, and in this new year, I encourage everyone to find what works for you. What’s most important is that we all engage in nurturing a healthy ecosystem for ourselves, our families, our friends and our entire community. We all play a role in sustaining wellness in our lives, and together, we can truly continue to build Saint Paul into a community that works for all of us. I’m absolutely thrilled to be your teammate in the work ahead and wish you a happy and healthy start to your year.

Coni Cassity

Coni Cassity has worked for the City for 22 years. She started in Libraries, then went to Parks & Rec. For the past 10 years, she has worked at Water. Below is Coni’s successful story, in her own words, at weight loss.

“I’ve been obese since I was a child. I can’t even count the number of diets I’ve tried over the past 40+ years. I’ve always been able to lose weight fast but keeping the weight off was something I always failed at, gaining it back even faster. This down and up cycle continued until I was well over 300 lbs. My Nurse Practitioner agreed that it was better to remain a constant weight than continue the yo-yo dieting so I stopped trying to lose weight and just accepted myself as I was. I managed to remain a stable weight for nearly 10 years but as my 50th birthday approached, I starting having more difficulty moving. Climbing a single flight of stairs would leave me breathless and light headed.

In March of 2017 I started having a lot of trouble walking due to arthritis in my knees. I was in such pain that I thought surgery was my only option but because of my size, surgery was dangerous. In June 2017 I received a disability placard and began physical therapy to prepare for what we all thought was inevitable surgery. At that time I was 288 lbs., pre-diabetic, had high blood pressure, high cholesterol and trouble breathing. I signed up for Omada* and started the program in July 2017 in desperation to get healthy enough to have the knee surgery. The weight started to come off slowly, but part of me was still expecting to fail because I had so many times before. While the coaching seemed “corny” and all the lessons were things I’ve heard over the years, it was different this time. I wasn’t trying to lose weight anymore, I was just trying to stay alive. It was hard to make changes at first, but by starting slowly and building healthy habits and routines one week at a time, it’s no longer a struggle.

In June of 2018 I saw my Nurse Practitioner for the first time in a year. She was speechless. At that time I was 202 lbs. (I’d lost 86 lbs. in 1 year). While still obese, my bloodwork was all within healthy ranges.

I have added years to my life. All it took was making the decision to not give up on myself this time. I managed to take control of my self-destructive eating habits. With the encouragement of my Omada coach, the support of my family, co-workers and a promise to myself to not let myself down, I have continued to lose weight and maintain a healthy and active lifestyle. I no longer need knee surgery since eating healthy, drinking more water and increasing my activity has reduced my pain to nearly non-existent. I walk at least 10,000 steps a day and have participated in six 5k runs. I have promised myself to bike into work once a week (3 ½ miles each way) during good weather. As of today, I have lost 115 lbs. I am continuing to eat healthy and remain active and will continue to lose the excess weight, but since losing weight is not my goal, it will not be a struggle. The more weight I continue to lose, the slower I will lose it until I reach a balance point. I’m excited to find out when that will happen.

*The Omada program is free to employees insured under the City’s Medica health plan. Visit for more information and to take the quick, three question survey to see if you qualify. Employees new to Omada qualify to earn 75 points for completing the first nine lessons.

Heather Vasquez

Heather has worked for the City for 13 years, starting at age 19. She is currently an Office Assistant III for Public Works in the Street Maintenance Division. In her job, she does a little bit of everything so much so that she has been called the “Swiss army knife of Public Works”!

Heather admits that in her teen years she wasn’t into exercising or watching her diet. She was in for a shock when at age 20 she stepped on a scale at a doctor appointment. She felt she had really let herself go and decided then that she would do something about it.

She began by making little changes to her diet. Up until then, she had been eating whatever she wanted which included a lot of fast food. So, for example, instead of taco shells, she substituted lettuce wraps. She gave up greasy cheeseburgers. She began doing her own research into healthy eating. Changing her diet was hard for her but it paid off. Heather saw the weight come off and people starting asking her about it. This motivated her to keep going.

Heather decided to add exercise to her life, beginning with short walks. She then added working out to exercise videos at home. By doing the Jillian Michaels 30 Day Shred she lost 30 lbs. in 6 weeks. The lifestyle changes that Heather made ultimately resulted in a 60 lb. total weight loss that she has been able to keep off. Her motivation to continue wasn’t just about losing weight, however. She wanted to lower her risk for diabetes, which runs in her family.

Two years ago, Heather joined a gym. To help her stay accountable. she takes a selfie when finished with her workout and posts it to Snapchat.

She is committed to going to the gym as often as she can. Her office is a 24/7 operation so she often works odd shifts and very long hours. When this happens, and she can’t make it to the gym, she works out on a break in the conference room, doing squats or using a workout video. She religiously wears her Fitbit, making sure she reaches 10,000/day. If she is short, she will even walk around her house or go up/down stairs to hit the goal. The Fitbit also calculates the number of calories she is burning when she works out. She logs those burned calories into the MyFitnessPal app along with logging pretty much anything she eats. That helps her to stay at least in the ballpark for her daily calorie goal. Heather said the use of the MyFitnessPal app really helped her realize how many calories she was eating. It has been a huge aid in weight loss for her.

Last year, Heather injured her back and was out of work for a month. She couldn’t exercise at all and or even make her own food. Heather pushed on though, not letting the pain and injury totally derail her lifestyle. With the help of a vigorous physical therapy program, Heather was able to slowly get back to a regular routine. She now pays more attention to using good form when exercising to avoid another injury. She keeps her workouts fresh by getting inspiration from social media.

For Heather, slow and steady wins the race. By changing her lifestyle, not only has she lost weight and reduced her risk for disease, but she feels a whole lot better too.

Hoa Young

Hoa Young has worked for the City for over 25 years, starting out as an aide in the Mayor’s office. Since then she has worked as a Project Management Technician for PED in the Annex.

Hoa has grown to appreciate the importance of staying active and eating well as she ages. She doesn’t have an extreme exercise program but rather does what she describes as low impact, age appropriate exercise which anyone could do.

To start with, Hoa lives in Lowertown and walks home approximately one mile from work most days. She participates in the free, lunch time Pilates class offered at City Hall. She may not do the whole hour but she finds 15-20 minutes helps clear her head and reduces any stress she is feeling. The instructor, Anca Sima, supports her in doing what works for her, saying doing anything is good. Hoa feels that – you have to move it or lose it.

Three years ago, Hoa began taking T’ai-Chi Qigong class. She goes most Sundays along with her husband to the Saint Paul Yoga Center for these classes. The philosophy behind Tai chi Qigong is based on the concept of five elements with (metal, wood, water, fire and earth) each element representing certain organs in the body. The exercise consists of deep breath, flowing movements and meditation to draw the Chi (energy) to the body to keep the organs healthy.

In terms of eating, Hoa strives to maintain a healthy weight by just watching what and how much she eats. She aims at eating simple, balanced and healthy food. She mostly cooks Vietnamese food that consists of rice (blending white and brown), meat and fresh vegetables. In the morning, she may have a half bagel with cream cheese or a yogurt. A small handful of nuts will serve as a snack during the day and before bedtime, or cheese, crackers and fruit. Tofu is a staple in her kitchen.

Recently Hoa started teaching cooking classes at Mississippi Market’s Eastside location. She likes to share her passion for cooking simple and healthy food and mostly authentic Vietnamese cuisine. Her next class is in October, “Vietnamese Chicken Three Ways”. You can find out more here:
Hoa is also adventurous in trying other cuisines of the world. She cooks Thai, Chinese, Italian, French, Korean. Her favorite thing to do is to watch cooking shows early Saturday morning.

Hoa understands that keeping a healthy lifestyle can take discipline; but after a while it becomes a habit. She also feels that emotional health is also important to living a long, healthy life so Hoa tries to focus on the positive things around her. She reminds herself daily of the good fortune of having a good family with a husband of 48 years, three well-adjusted children and seven grandchildren. She believes there is really no reason to complain but be thankful for all she has.

Police Officer Fitness Test

Each year, Saint Paul police officers undergo fitness testing. This testing provides valuable information to the officers regarding their ability to respond to the physical demands of the job. The officers’ results are compared to population standards for age and gender.

This year changes were made to the testing process to keep current with the latest research and trends in law enforcement fitness testing. Officers now have two testing options from which to choose for their annual fitness test.

Testing option #1: Physical Fitness Test (PFT). Listed below are the fitness components that are measured and the tests used to assess that component.

Aerobic endurance:
1.5 mile run (the 12 minute Navy bicycle test or one mile walk are also provided to those who have an injury or medical condition preventing them from safely completing the run.)
Body composition: Waist measurement or body fat percentage test using either skinfold pinch test or a body fat scale.
Explosive power: Vertical Jump. Standing with one arm raised overhead, that height is noted; the score is then the number of inches above that point the officer can reach with jumping.
Muscular Strength/endurance: choice of maximum number of pushups or 1 repetition max bench press (ratio of weight to lbs. pressed one time)

Testing option #2: 2000 meter row
This test is new this year and specifically requires the use of a Concept 2 Rowing machine. A 2000 meter row tests the aerobic capacity, as well as the muscular strength and muscular endurance of the entire body all at once. Strength, overall power and the ability to continuously apply power play a key role in rowing performance. Rowing also requires strong core musculature to brace the midsection to use both the lower and upper body together to row. Nearly all of the body’s muscles are used during rowing. Scoring for the test is based on gender, body weight and time to complete.
Upon completion of a fitness test, the Physical Fitness Specialist for the department, Jim Hensrud, can then recommend a training program to improve the officers’ fitness if needed.

Run Club

This month, we are featuring employees who run Saint Paul – at least that is what their t-shirts say! These employees are the members of Run Club which was started this year by OFS employee Bridget Morales. It includes employees from a variety of City departments, all of whom have different paces and abilities. It provides motivational support, an opportunity to explore different running routes and an outlet for those who share their same interest. They like the team atmosphere and the opportunity to meet and network with other department employees. For some, it feels safer running in a group rather than alone. They see it contributing to a Healthy Saint Paul.

Below is what three members had to say about Run Club.

Marissa Peterson, OFS. “I love Run Club because it is a great way to be active with other people from around the City. I usually run on my own, so it is fun to be able to exercise in a group environment. It definitely pushes me to work harder! I also love the way I feel when I come back to work after Run Club – I always feel like I have more energy to get through the rest of the workday.”

Brett Hussong, Parks and Rec. “I’ve found that it is difficult to exercise when I get home from work, so I typically run 4-5 days each week over lunch. I run to get outside, and to mentally take a break from work. I find I’m more productive in the afternoon if I get away from my desk during the day. I joined the running club as a way to network, and to meet new people both inside and outside of the city. I stay motivated because we run a different route each week, and we generally get to experience the river corridor!”

Mary Guerra, OFS. “I started running in the last 5 years or so. Nothing competitive, just recreational. I’m likely the slowest runner in Run Club . The farthest distance I’ve ever run is a Half Marathon (13.1 miles) this last Halloween. It took me two and a half hours to complete. I felt so proud! I’m currently training for my first Ragnar relay race this August (200 mile race from Winona to the Twin Cities). I’ll be running Ragnar with Run Club mastermind Bridget Morales. Many of the runners in the Run Club have done one or more marathons, so it’s very inspirational and encouraging. Everybody is welcome in the Run Club, runners of all speeds. What keeps me coming to Run Club is the ability to run with friends. I usually run on my own wearing my headphones, so it’s nice to do a group run where I can run while connecting with others too.”

All employees are invited to join Run Club. It meets every Wednesday in the first floor lobby of the Saint Paul Athletic Club/Hotel, 340 Cedar Street. There is a restroom that can be used for changing and there is also a place to store a duffle bag if needed. To store a bag, label the bag with your name and “Run Club”. For more information, contact Bridget at

Do you have questions for our featured employee?
Send them to us at and we will publish a Q&A in a future issue.

Rachel Handren

Rachel Handren began working for the Parks and Rec Center daycare program about six years ago. As a child, Rachel’s family moved around a lot. As a result, she made friends with children from many different cultures. Her childhood also included being involved with dance. She began lessons in fourth grade, participating in dance competitions and public performances. Rachel’s Northwest Como Rec supervisor, aware of her dance background and her ability to connect with children from many different cultures decided she would be the perfect person to develop and direct a dance program for children at this center.

Rachel began with creative movement classes for children aged 3-5; for elementary aged children she created jazz, ballet and hip hop classes. Classes were held once per week from September through May. As the program grew in popularity, Rachel expanded with more classes. During the summer when classes aren’t typically held, she began holding dance workshops to keep the momentum going. Last year, she added a dance competition league. This league competes in local competitions against private dance studios. Their competitors come from studios that are designed for dance with mirrored walls, ballet bars, etc. as opposed to the Rec Center gym used in Rachel’s classes. To help cover the cost of competition entrance fees, they have a fund raising booster club, set up snack tables, etc. They plan to have a fund raising chair for next season. There are 90+ students now involved in Rec dance classes and the competition league.

Besides teaching children to dance, Rachel’s goal is helping them become more fit. The competition league dancers took a baseline fitness test at the beginning of the year and then set their goals. Each class spent 15-20 minutes on strength, conditioning and flexibility exercises. They were required to practice routines and exercise outside of class as “practice makes progress”. By the end of the first year, every single dancer beat their own personal goal while also growing in the intricate skills it takes to be a competition dancer. The valuable skill of working as part of a team was also learned.

Rachel says she is so incredibly proud of how hard her students work especially on their own personal fitness goals and how they encourage each other to do better. She has dreams of having a real, dedicated space for the dancers in the future. We recognize Rachel for sharing her enthusiasm in bringing the joy of movement and fitness to so many kids, making a difference in their lives.

City Employees Do Yoga

Our June Spotlight article is all about the benefits of yoga. Over the years, the City and Healthy Saint Paul have encouraged employees to enjoy these benefits by offering lunch time yoga classes. Classes have been held at City Hall since 2005; the Water Department has offered classes for the past three years and in January, 2018 yoga classes began at the Police Department. Below is what employees have to say about making yoga part of their regular routine.

Anca Sima is a Public Works employee who is also a very experienced and knowledgeable Yoga instructor. Anca began teaching yoga at City Hall In 2005, and many of the people who began at that time are still participating. Anca stresses that no matter what experience a person may have, her class is structured to accommodate from those ranging from beginner yoga to advanced. Marie Franchett is one of the employees who began with Anca back in 2005 and still participates. She saw this as an opportunity to get in some exercise over the lunch hour. She says it provides a great break in the day, and she finds it rejuvenating. Marie feels the classes have kept her healthy. Since participating for all these years, she hasn’t had any joint or muscle pain issues, except for a sore back due to the shoveling this year!

Dolly Ludden and Dennis Rosemark have been doing yoga at SPRWS since the onset 3+ years ago.
Dollie appreciates the instructor who “is great in continually reminding us on proper form, challenging us in various poses and broadening our scope of what yoga is and how it can help us. Yoga is great for the mind, body and spirit.” After lunch, Dolly goes back to work with a fresh outlook to finish out her day. Yoga was new to Dennis when he began. He says he enjoys being with the positive people who participate as they are more into fun than judgement. He shared, “Turns out yoga is improving my overall well-being causing me to simply feel better and stronger. With this discipline, a little stretching and giggling goes a long way to get through a very busy work day.”

The Yoga instructor for the SPPD, Cailee Stangl, has specialized training as a Yoga for First Responders instructor. Cailee’s goal is to teach how to overcome stress by providing the tools to add calm back to your life. Sgt. Jim Andersen appreciates the knowledge Cailee brings and how she tailors the class to the individual. Employee Ali Cole says it is a GIFT to be able to take a break during the work day and focus on taking care of herself.

Do you have questions for our featured employee?
Send them to us at and we
will publish a Q&A in a future issue.

Gerald Carter

In 2001, Gerald Carter accepted a job with the St. Paul Police Department and moved here from Evansville, Indiana to continue his career in law enforcement. He is 60 years old, has been married for 32 years and has two children. We are featuring Gerald this month to recognize his lifelong commitment to staying physically fit as well as his outstanding achievements.

Since the age of 16, Gerald has been competing in power lifting and body building competitions on both a national and international level. From the start, he has never placed below the top five and is usually in the top 3 in competitions. Throughout his entire life, he has never used enhancing drugs even though for a time it was legal to do so.

Since entering law enforcement, Gerald has chosen to regularly participate in the World Police and Fire Games. In the World games, there are thousands of public safety officers representing 65-70 countries competing at various events, larger even than the winter Olympic games. He has gone up against lifters from the Eastern bloc where the use of steroids is not illegal. In the 2005 World Games held in Quebec City, Gerald received silver in the push pull event and a bronze in the bench press. In the 2009 World Games, he won three medals: silvers in the bench press and push pull, and a bronze in body building. He went on to win a silver medal in the bench press in the 2011 World Games. It was in the 2015 World Games that Gerald captured his first gold medals; one in the bench press and one in the push pull event. In an interview he gave at the time, he said, “Finally, it’s nice to be the bride and not just the bridesmaid”. He repeated that performance as the returning champion in Los Angeles in 2017.

Performing at this level obviously demands a lot of training. Gerald generally trains six days a week for 45-75 minutes/day. Besides lifting weights, he includes 30-45 minutes of a cardio work-out on a stair climber or bicycle. Despite these many years of training and competition, he has not suffered any serious injuries. He attributes that to paying attention to his body – is it just muscle soreness he is feeling or something else? If he finds a particular lift painful, he knows to substitute something else for a while. He instructs people who come to him with training questions to make sure they focus on core strength as well.

Despite all the hard work Gerald puts into competing, he acknowledges that some people are born with a natural ability for different things and have that advantage so he is reluctant to give himself a big pat on the back for excelling as he has. He also acknowledges that he could not have achieved what he has over the years if not for the support from his wife as he spends much time and expense to do what he loves.

Gerald trains and competes because he likes the sport and it helps him control his weight. He enjoys meeting people from all over the world, like the Mongolian police officer who spoke no English. This officer was admiring Gerald’s leather weight lifting belt, as these are not available in Mongolia. So, Gerald gave him his. He looks forward to seeing him and other new friends at competitions, even when they don’t speak the same language.
Gerald’s next competition will be in 2019 in Chengdu, China. We wish him the best and congratulate him on all he has achieved.

Do you have questions for our featured employee? Send them to us at and we will publish a Q&A in a future issue.

Michele LaMere

Michele has worked for the City for 30 years. She has been in her current position as an Accounting Technician with Parks and Rec in the City Hall Annex for 26 years. She loves working for Parks and says her co-workers are an “awesome group.” Her commitment to walking daily on her lunch break began shortly after she came to the Annex when her supervisor invited her to join her on a walk through the skyways. Her supervisor has left the City but Michele has continued her daily, 30 minute walking lunch breaks ever since.

In 2000 Michele’s sister, Diane Schwanke, began working for the City as a Payroll Specialist. She readily joined Michele in her daily walks. Michele says she feels like the luckiest person in the world to be able to get in her exercise while spending quality time with her sister. In the summer months, they enjoy a brisk, two mile walk outside. In addition, they designated certain nights during the week when Michele will get on her elliptical at home and Diane on her treadmill. For accountability, they report back to each other the next day.

Heart disease runs in Michele’s family. She became borderline hypertensive and did not want to go on medication. She opted instead to get healthier by eating better and adding additional exercise. She joined the Omada program in November, 2017. This has worked tremendously for her as she has lost 20 lbs. since joining. She likes being able to bounce off thoughts with her core Omada group. She really appreciates the support they and her coach provide. Michele thinks the lessons, while often things you already know, serve as a good reminder and motivation to incorporate them into your life. She likes the accountability Omada provides as well. She is eating so much better and feels great since joining.

For people whose job like Michele’s involves sitting all day, committing to getting up and moving is important. She loves that her Fitbit reminds her with a buzz when she hasn’t moved out of her seat for an hour. Since joining Omada, Michele has added walking the Annex stairs on her morning and afternoon breaks. She started inviting co-workers to join her and now about five of them often will. She invites everyone to give it a try. It provides a mental break as well as some exercise.

Any day Michele doesn’t get in a walk now feels like a really long day to her. She recommends people get up and walk as it actually can be reenergizing. Regarding Omada, she tells anyone who is considering it not to hesitate. While it is a commitment, anybody can do it. It is a fantastic program and she feels so much better having participated.

PHOT0: Michele Lamere (right) with sister, Diane Schwanke.

Do you have questions for our featured employee? Send them to us at and
we will publish a Q&A in a future issue.