New COO Brings Health and Wellness Operations Background to Shalom Austin’s Future
When Corey Schwartz learned last year that Shalom Austin was looking for a new COO, he was excited about the position’s potential scale of impact and, with recently appointed CEO Rabbi Daniel Septimus, working for an organization in transition, with a focus on excellence.
At the time, Schwartz was executive director of healthy living at the YMCA of the Pikes Peak Region in Colorado Springs, Colorado, where he oversaw all health and wellness operations and played a key role in programming for about 15 YMCA locations.
Schwartz and his wife realized that while they thought Colorado was gorgeous, they wanted to live in a place with warmer weather and closer to the beach. Ready to settle down and start a family in the next few years, they wanted to find a place to call home and plant some roots.
Then, knowing that he wanted to continue working in the non-profit world in health and wellness and operations, Schwartz learned of and applied for Shalom Austin’s COO position.
“Part of it was knowing that this organization is going through a transition and that things are going to be changing, and I’d have the opportunity to support Daniel in his mission and really help mold what the future of this organization looks like,” said Schwartz, who began serving as Shalom Austin’s COO in early January.
He was also really attracted to “the caliber of the people” he met through the interview process.
“The Austin community in general is about opening their arms and embracing anyone and everything, of any walk of life,” Schwartz said.
Schwartz decided to pursue a career in health and wellness because he had always been active he grew up playing hockey and running, and played baseball through high school and into college until he blew out his shoulder. Staying active, working out and eating healthy were a huge part of his life.
His father’s emergency septuple bypass surgery when Schwartz was a teenager also influenced Schwartz’s work.
“It was kind of a reminder that life is precious, and our bodies are precious. I think sometimes we take for granted what our bodies do without even us controlling it or thinking about it day in and day out,” he explained.
“So what I wanted to do was to be an advocate, a person who motivates and inspires others to really be able to appreciate and take advantage of what you can do to support not only the longevity of your health and well-being, but the significance it has in every other part of life,” said Schwartz, who was born in New York City and raised in Los Angeles and Delaware.
Schwartz holds a bachelor’s degree in health assessment and promotion from James Madison University in Virginia and a master’s in health promotion from the University of Delaware, where he began his career working as a personal trainer and as the building supervisor for the school’s main recreation center. While a grad student, he also taught several undergraduate classes in the Department of Behavioral Health and Nutrition at the University of Delaware.
After finishing his master’s degree in 2009, Schwartz went on to work at the Nemours Foundation, an internationally recognized non-profit children’s healthcare system. Schwartz’s grant-funded team studied how to incorporate more physical activity, healthy eating and health education into the lives of elementary school students at a time when budget cuts were leading schools to cut physical education classes and recess time.
“The work we did across the state of Delaware actually became nationally recognized, and we had an opportunity to meet with Michelle Obama and the Let’s Move campaign and provide them with some education and information on best practices from what we did,” said Schwartz.
After the team’s grant ran out, Schwartz knew he wanted to focus more on operations in his field, and went to work for the next two years as senior director of health and wellness for the YMCA of Delaware, Brandywine Branch.
At that point, Schwartz had begun dating Jennifer. Now his wife, she has a background in psychobiology, the behavior training side of animal work, and experience working with sea turtles, dolphins and other marine animals. So the couple wanted to move toward warmer weather and larger bodies of water so she would have more work opportunities.
Schwartz had the opportunity to take the lead on one of the largest corporate wellness programs in the country, working with CSX Railroads Inc. for Corporate Fitness Works in Jacksonville, Florida. The position gave him the experience of managing 46 fitness facilities across 15 states with a staff of nearly 30 people, but once the couple got married, they knew the extensive travel required did not t well with what they wanted for their first year of marriage.
Still connected to the YMCA, which he describes as a fantastic organization to work for, Schwartz was asked to apply for the position he held in Colorado.
“They are very welcoming and up front about bringing in individuals of all types of religions and ethnic backgrounds into the organization. I'd be the first one to tell anybody, if it wasn't for my work experience and my experience in an environment like the YMCA, I would not be in the position I'm in today,” Schwartz said. “It really helped me become the leader I am and also the man that I am today."
While he has enjoyed his work throughout his career, Schwartz said, he has felt a bit of a disconnect on a spiritual level. While he continued to observe Judaism, he was not very involved in the community, a situation he looks forward to reversing at Shalom Austin.
Now that he is on board at Shalom Austin, Schwartz plans to focus on building an organization with, on the operational side, seamless systems.
He also looks forward to supporting the CEO and the rest of the senior leadership to create an atmosphere of excellence from a business standpoint and in connecting with the Jewish population and broader Austin community.
"I think we have a unique opportunity because this city has a framework there and the mindset already to really help provide a role model and example and show that at the end of the day, regardless of ethnicity or religion or political beliefs, we're all humans, and we all come from the same place and we all are here, hopefully, to live a life of good deed and passion," Schwartz said.
He added, “We want to stay close to our core and our mission and what our beliefs are, but also to help break down barriers and obstacles and silos, and show that at the end of the day, we're all here to help make this a better community."
Getting Healthy with COO Corey Schwartz
Small bits of change that can have big results
Changing your behavior to be healthy is going to take time and patience.
Whether it’s weight loss or overall health, your body changes over a period of time. It's not a light switch one day, and all of a sudden you're 30 pounds heavier or having heart disease or high blood pressure. The reality is that in order to counteract that and improve your health and well- being, it's also going to take time. If you’re looking for it to happen overnight or if you're looking for that silver bullet or that magic pill, it does not exist. That's not reality.
Don’t take lightly power of just getting up and moving.
By simply adding little bits of activity to day to day life, over time you're going to start building a stronger affinity and connection to being more active and over time you're going to be able to expand your capacity to be active.
It has to be a balanced equation.
You can't just focus on physical activity or eating clean or super restricted because that does not work. The reality is you have to balance it, everything has to be in moderation, but you also have to enjoy life. If you're putting yourself in a position that is so counter to what you normally do, the likelihood is your ability to adhere to that is very low.