At 6:15 on a Tuesday evening, the sound of Latin dance music filters out of the Hatch Elementary School multipurpose room. Inside, 14 women get their groove on to salsa, flamenco and merengue music in a free Spanish-language Zumba class offered to low-income moms.
Half Moon Bay resident Yadira Haro found out about the class through a co-worker and has been attending for the last six weeks. This week she brought her 15-year-old daughter. Her 6-year-old son regularly attends the free childcare.
“My son looks forward to going,” she said. “He asks, ‘Mom, do you have your exercise class today?’ We all have fun and enjoy moving around.”
The Zumba class is part of the wellness offerings provided by Mind Body Moms, a company founded by Half Moon Bay resident Jaclyn Long which offers mindfulness-based wellness programs and retreats to parents and employees in the Bay Area.
Long started offering classes for paying clients in Palo Alto in 2011, but from the beginning she wanted to include disadvantaged moms in her programs. At first, she tried welcoming low-income clients into her existing classes, but soon realized that wasn’t a good fit.
“These women couldn’t travel, and they mostly spoke Spanish,” she said. “We decided to start hiring facilitators that speak Spanish and bring the programs directly into the low-income communities.”
Long decided to start with the communities she was most familiar with — East Palo Alto, where she had completed an internship as a marriage and family therapist, and her hometown of Half Moon Bay.
The first Coastside offering was a mindfulness class. It started with 15 participants, but by the end of the session, attendance had dropped to only six.
When Long and the instructor met with the remaining women to get their feedback, they discovered that many of the mindfulness activities in the class brought up difficult emotions for these women.
“The moms were in tears, telling us that when they closed their eyes, they were experiencing traumatic memories,” said Long.
“When we asked the women what they thought we could do, they suggested we try something like Zumba,” she said. The women said that Zumba would be more accepted in the Latino culture.
Mind Body Moms has been offering free Zumba classes in Spanish for two years now, with great success. One week the Zumba teacher could not make the class, so they substituted yoga instead. The women loved it. Now, yoga is a standard part of the program, offered on Tuesdays immediately after the Zumba class.
Haro says she usually stays for both classes.
“I’ve never done yoga before. This is the first time,” she said. “In the beginning I was like, ‘What is this going to do for me?’ But the next day I could totally feel it. It’s helping me with my back problems.”
Long has found that Zumba is a great gateway class to help bring other offerings to these communities.
“It’s an easy way for them to enter in,” she said. “We build trust by offering something that is really good and nourishing.”
This spring in Half Moon Bay, Mind Body Moms offered three other free classes to low-income moms: a Spanish class on positive discipline and two English classes, one on emotional intelligence and another on building emotional understanding and mindfulness.
For women like Haro, these classes are a rare opportunity.
“It is good,” she said. “This is my only day just for me.”