When you walk up to the doors of LJ’s Fitness in Womelsdorf, Pa., a sign that reads “Stronger, Healthier, Happier” welcomes you. There are similar inspirational quotes and verses on the gym walls. Workout machines are marked with QR codes that show you how to properly operate them. A Salvation Army red kettle, borrowed from the nearby church in Lebanon, is sometimes seen at the front desk where passersby deposit donations for victims of natural disasters such as Hurricane Ida, which hit in 2021.
Lynn Kreider, owner of LJ’s Fitness, and her husband Tim, have a genuine love for their clients and their health. The gym is their work, and their ministry.
“We believe that, if your business is focused on doing the right things for others, not simply to make money off them, but to be truly intentional in serving them, then the world opens up to you,” says Tim. “Everything we do is intentional, from the inspirational words we put up, to the colors we paint the walls, to the charities we support and work with, such as The Salvation Army.”
A fitness fundraiser
The partnership between The Salvation Army and LJ’s Fitness began in 2017, as the Kreiders prepared to launch an addition to the gym with a celebration and a ribbon cutting. At the same time, states such as Louisiana and Texas were being devastated by tropical storms.
“We couldn’t throw a party like this knowing that there were so many people suffering,” says Lynn. “As our lives and business was going up, there were other lives in pain, and businesses being destroyed.”
Two weeks before the ribbon cutting, the Kreiders changed the celebration to a donation event for hurricane victims. To raise money, local churches prepared and sold food, and gym members held a silent auction. Tim and Lynn also asked The Salvation Army in Lebanon for a red kettle to collect money directly.
“We’re very selective of the charities we choose to work with, and we asked The Salvation Army to be a part of this for a few reasons,” explains Lynn. “First, we wanted to have a strong visual representation of helping others. We also wanted to work with a group that had a direct connection to helping the people who were affected by storms. The Salvation Army has both of those things.”
“We needed as much money as possible to go directly to the cause, and the Army is known for that too. Finally, we wanted people to be able to give whatever they felt comfortable giving; a red kettle would allow that,” says Lynn.
Lynn and Tim said they would have felt happy to raise any small amount from the event. Instead, when they opened the kettle, they found checks written for hundreds of dollars. In total, the event brought in close to $8,000.
“It was amazing. We were in tears to see that people trusted us and gave so much to help others, and so suddenly,” says Tim.
Since then, the Kreiders have been involved in various ministries, such as the Angel Tree and overseas adoption programs. Lieutenant Marlon Rodriguez, pastor at Lebanon, is still taken aback by the Kreiders’ generosity.
“Who thinks of canceling an important promotional event for their business to turn it into a chance to bless others?” asks Rodriguez. “Only people with a wonderful, Christlike heart.”
Healthy bodies and spirits
For the Kreiders, who are also certified personal trainers, exercise is medicine for the mind, body, and spirit. Lynn says that there is a direct connection between spiritual and physical health.
“Strong spiritual health enables individuals to better deal with the inevitable challenges and hardships that life brings,” says Lynn. “They are not derailed because of the understanding that all of this is temporary. It is understood that to be God’s hands and feet we need to be healthy and strong – taking care of the ‘temple’ we have been provided is an important part of living a fulfilling and complete life.
“Oftentimes, optimum health is expressed through the mind/body connection. When the mind is strong, and someone is in a good place, it translates into also taking care of the body,” says Lynn.
The Kreiders are happy to share their faith with their gym members and view the teachings of the Bible as a key component in the success of the business. “Jesus said to love your neighbor as you love yourself,” says Tim. “In our gym, and especially our fitness classes, we welcome everyone, whether they move fast, slow, sit, stand or need a cane.”
“We will never deny anyone an opportunity to better themselves,” says Lynn.
Barbells and ringing bells
As members leave LJ’s Fitness after a workout, they are invited to ring a bell by the door. The Kreiders got that idea from a local fast–food chain that had a bell in its restaurants that customers would ring if they had enjoyed their meal. At LJ’s Fitness, hearing the bell signals that members enjoyed a good workout. The hope is that the sound will inspire others to do the same.
“I think it’s very inspirational to have that in their gym,” says Rodriguez. “I like how bells are part of both their business model and the Salvation Army’s history.”
In a time when a quarter of all fitness facilities have closed due to COVID–19, the Kreiders’ approach to making their business a ministry has touched the hearts of their clientele. When Pennsylvania was in lockdown, gym members brought food to the door of the gym. (The Kreiders live in an apartment above LJ’s Fitness). When they offered to refund the membership fees collected during the lockdown, some members insisted that the Kreiders continue billing them, and would happily return when LJ’s opened again. They had learned to trust the promise—that it would bounce back “Stronger, Healthier, and Happier.”
“Two things that we get the most from our members are compliments on how clean our facility is, and how kind and friendly we are to everyone who comes in,” says Tim. “I love knowing that. I tell our employees, ‘These are the two things that are always 100 percent within our control.’ People look at how you behave, how you treat them, and what you do to make them feel wanted and loved.”
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