Every month PelotonLabs founder Liz Trice interviews a community member for The West End News. This month Liz caught up with Emma Holder: fitness teacher, massage therapist, community activist, and Parkside Neighborhood Association President.
You do a lot of things, Emma! Is there some connection between fitness and your community activism?
Yes, I’m on four boards right now! Parkside Neighborhood Association, Maine Medical Center Neighborhood Advisory Committee, I’m president of my Condo association board, and I’m on P.A.N. which is the Portland Association of Neighborhoods.
Wellness and activism are connected. I have a master’s degree in microbiology and immunology and became a fitness instructor in 1996 when I was 26 – I had received a cancer diagnosis and was looking for a way to deal with stress and chose fitness. I went from group fitness to personal training, then specialized in working with older people, then all people, then started thinking about the larger community. Fitness of a body is similar to fitness of a community or city– I just watched “Osmosis Joe” again. I love that movie. You go into the “city” of the character of “Frank” and there’s an animated story of how body systems work.
Responsibility to health starts with your body, but also the community around you. If you feel safe to walk or bike to work, that translates into not only your health but the health of everyone around you: clean air, safe walking, social connection, and not having heart attacks.
How has the pandemic affected your work?
I’m doing all my fitness classes on Zoom now. I’m finding new ways to create welcoming classes that will challenge and engage all levels and keep everyone safe. I’ve had to change how I teach, but I have a committed group coming to my classes, and always welcome new people. I’ve had some people coming to my classes for almost 20 years. My classes are educational, encourage people to listen to their bodies, and are enjoyable! I’ve created recorded material, which I had never done before. I’m teaching online food fermentation classes. I work really hard the first six weeks of the year to create a space that people really enjoy to help people stick to their habits.
Participantskeep coming back because they meet other wonderful people, sweat together, and have a good time. It’s helpful to have buddies when you’re trying a new thing. With all my classes, I’ve learned that you’ve got to create a connection… The magic is in the community, in the connection, in the shared experience we’re going through. We’re all trying to stay healthy, be optimistic, get through this alive so we can get back to seeing our friends.
What community activism projects are you most excited about right now?
The Parkside Neighborhood Association just got a grant to work on the Parkside Neighborhood Vision. It’s being paid for by a grant from Maine Medical Center through the Neighborhood Advisory Committee. A board member is leading the effort for neighbors, developers, and city staff to chronicle what works, what doesn’t work, how we’d like to see things in 5, 10, 15 years. It includes thinking about what works in Parkside: the park, streets, buildings, families, diversity, and how to communicate across languages.
We want to be able to give developers a guide that shows what we like about our neighborhood so theycan propose something that will be an asset to the neighborhood. When Todd Anderson came to PNA to talk about building the Goodwin, we were able to tell them how important porches are in our neighborhood. So the new building will have porches. Why not always get the neighborhood involved in the beginning? Todd Anderson came to us 4 or 5 times and it’s been so well communicated and intelligent! Parkside has triple deckers, balconies, flat roofs… we would love everything to be solar or green roof ready. Our plan will also be able to help the city make decisions about bike lanes, parks, speedbumps, community gardens, sober houses, improve lighting.
A few years ago,another board memberdocumented which houses didn’t have porch lights. We advocated for porch lights to be present and illuminated. We told CMP which streetlights had broken bulbs. Wehave recently been invited to help make decisions about the castle in Deering Oaks. Parkside isa gritty little neighborhood with a lot to offer, and we want to make sure that we’re creating a place that’s safe and welcoming for everyone.
You’re a year-round cyclist, no car, right?
I got rid of my car more than 10 years ago, and it’s the best decision I ever made… It’s given me so much freedom. I think people equate their car with freedom: “I can go wherever I want.” Sure, after you dig it out of a snowbank!
There are definitely uses for cars, but I don’t think everyone needs one. Getting towed, snowbans … I did the math and realized I save about $4,000 per year by getting rid of mine. I’d rather not have a car and have the $4,000 per year… That’s two months of vacation for me. If many people realize they can live without cars, the neighborhood gets better for everyone.
FMI: Emma Holder and Parkside Neighborhood Association
For more on Emma Holder, please visit https://www.emmaholder.com.
Learn more about Parkside Neighborhood Association or get involved: https://www.parksideneighborhood.org.
PelotonLabs is a coworking space in the West End of Portland, Maine with a mission to connect and encourage people working on their own to manifest their visions without fear.