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Wellness instructor leads the way for Milwaukee Recreation's virtual programming

Annie Wegner LeFortBy Brian Foley, Marketing Supervisor

When the COVID-19 pandemic forced Milwaukee Recreation to close its community center doors in March ahead of the spring programming season, thousands of community members across the city were left without their traditional outlet for physical, mental, and social wellbeing.

The department quickly shifted to a virtual "Rec. At Home" program, where instructors host classes through Facebook Live that are posted frequently on the Milwaukee Recreation Facebook page. Annie Wegner LeFort, who has been a regular Milwaukee Recreation instructor for two years, immediately jumped at the opportunity, and has now become a centerpiece of the weekly Rec. At Home schedule.

When Milwaukee Recreation first launched the virtual program in late March, LeFort hosted 6 of the 11 classes in the opening week. Over time, as more instructors have gotten involved with Rec. At Home (Milwaukee Recreation hosted 31 classes during the week of May 18-23), LeFort has continued to up her program options.

She has taught nearly 70 sessions through the first 8 weeks of the campaign, featuring a bevy of popular yoga courses, such as Gentle Yoga, Yoga for Runners, Candlelight Yoga, and Yoga Zone.

"When we [got the stay at home order], I knew I needed to do something to not only keep working, but more importantly to keep reaching my students with regular yoga and movement practice," LeFort said.

"Our yoga community is as important to me as it is to them - from a social standpoint and a health standpoint. It can be challenging to develop a home practice. When we have a community to motivate us and hold us accountable, it helps us stay dedicated to our practice. And having regularly scheduled classes keeps people in a routine, which I know many of my students appreciate."

In between her morning and evening yoga sessions from her new home studio, LeFort also leads afternoon cooking courses designed to improve creativity and efficiency in the kitchen. Prior to becoming a certified yoga instructor, LeFort - the founder of The Mindful Palate - launched her business to teach courses about cooking and mindful eating. She earned a degree in Food & Nutrition in Business, as well as a Culinary Arts degree, and has 15 years of restaurant experience, most recently as a pastry chef for a decade.

"I teach people how to be more intentional about the source of their food, how they prepare it, and [how they] enjoy it."

During her Rec. At Home virtual cooking classes, LeFort has been showing off some of her "greatest hits." You can re-watch all of Annie's cooking courses - including Vegetarian Tacos, Gluten-Free Pizza Crusts, Knife Sharpening, No-Waste/Low-Waste Cooking, and so much more - on Milwaukee Recreation's YouTube channel.

Everyone continues to find new ways to interact with others during this pandemic, and LeFort is no different. She has embraced the virtual instruction opportunities with open arms, using this experience to improve her knowledge of technology, share classes with family and friends who are outside of the Milwaukee area, and increase the amount of classes she can physically teach in a week. Still, she is eager to return to in-person teaching this summer.

"While I appreciate my current schedule and setup, there is nothing like the in-person energy I get from my students, especially in yoga classes," LeFort said.

LeFort will teach seven Milwaukee Recreation classes at the Beulah Brinton Community Center this summer. Registration opens on June 8 for city of Milwaukee residents, and June 15 for non-residents.

Gentle Yoga

Yoga for Women's Health

Yoga

Yoga for Runners

LeFort's virtual sessions have been incredibly well received, with a steady stream of viewers and countless positive messages from participants, so people are undoubtedly eager to re-join her for her in-person summer yoga courses.

"Annie is a rare combination of cool, thoughtful, and organized," Milwaukee Recreation supervisor Joel Symons said. "Annie is a ball of energy, and it's no wonder because she's a product of what she preaches."

Stay tuned for more of Annie's virtual classes in the coming weeks, and be sure to sign up quickly for her in-person yoga courses!

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