Co-op City’s Vibrant Awakening

By Kayla Beltran

It’s 11:50 AM on a Wednesday in September and Gretchen Simmons sits on the steps of the Co-op City Greenway stage in the Bronx. As people walk towards the stage, Simmons greets them by name and with a smile, letting them know that the workout will be starting soon. She is the founder of Vibrant Awakenings, a community organization that focuses on yoga, dance, and wellness.

Simmons, 48, was raised in Co-op City’s Section 5 in the Bronx and says she’s a “Co-op City girl at heart.” Before Vibrant Awakenings, Simmons worked as a human resource administrator for 30 years. During this time, she put on a lot of weight, which motivated her to start doing yoga. Yoga helped her build up strength and even healed her both physically and mentally. She also decided to take part in Shape Up NYC, which is a fitness group program that is spread throughout all five boroughs. Shape Up NYC offers classes in aerobics, bootcamp, Zumba, among others. When they gave Simmons the opportunity to be an instructor for Shape Up NYC, she took it and decided to bring the classes to Co-op City. “I want to give back to my community because I live here, I know these people, I have a real sense of love and connection to Co-op City,” she says.

When the pandemic started, the number of Shape Up NYC instructors started to decrease, along with the number of classes offered. Simmons left as well. The Riverbay Corporation, which is the management company that manages Co-op City, brought Simmons back to the community. Vibrant Awakenings provides the neighborhood with an exercise boot camp to help people build up strength. “My platform caters to a mature crowd of women who are refining their identity, had their children, have their career, you know what I mean, trying to get back in shape, try to find some peace, make some sense in the life they’re living in this world,” says Simmons. “My goal is to promote healthy initiative to everyone and show the importance of staying active, not just physically but mentally.”

Simmons believes that people need to stay connected during the Covid-19 pandemic. In the nice weather, she decided to have workouts outside and not just through Zoom, Facebook, or Instagram Live. She has classes in Co-op City and in Pelham Bay Park. They can be booked through her website vibrantawakenings.com. “People have been locked up for months,” says Simmons. “Being socially distant, I don’t agree with that phrase, we were forced to be physically distant.”

Students such as Sheryl, 71, take the class because arthritis is common in her family. Since she started exercising, Sheryl hasn’t suffered arthritis in her knees. “Due to Covid, my fear is that we can’t go indoors, and in the winter we won’t be able to exercise,” says Sheryl. “I hope we stay out here as long as we can because I’m afraid if I sit down too long I won’t be able to get back up.” Batrice, who is over 50 says the class keeps her muscle supple. “I advise everybody to get exercise in their life because it is good for you, especially if you’re my age,” she says. “You can’t just sit around and do nothing because your muscles will clog up on you.”

During her bootcamp class on the Co-op City Greenway stage, the attendees were smiling, surrounded by beautiful flowers planted around the stage. The heat of the sun hit their skin and a light wind blew. Gretchen started the music and began the four-minute warm up. As they were marching in place, the water from the sprinklers behind them misted in their direction, cooling them off. The 45-minute workout ended with the song “In the Air Tonight” by Phil Collins.

5 Responses to Co-op City’s Vibrant Awakening

  1. John Rich October 7, 2020 at 1:33 pm

    That’s a very motivating story of union and hope for people to understand staying fit keeps you up in health and spirit.

    Good read

  2. Marie Elena Ferrier October 7, 2020 at 7:11 pm

    very interesting article. full of facts & great photos to go w/ it.

  3. Lisa O. October 8, 2020 at 12:06 am

    This is a great article of reaching your goals & community – love it!

  4. MWB October 8, 2020 at 3:01 am

    This is such a wonderful article. Gretchen is truly a phenomenal woman doing great things in our community. She is quoted as saying, “I have a real sense of love and connection to Co-op City.” Well, we have a real sense of love and connection to Gretchen. The smile the writer described is genuine and she brings it and a spirit of motivation and encouragement to every class. Thank you my dear Gretchen for sharing your gift with us all. Thank you Kayla Beltran for featuring our beloved Gretchen, Vibrant Awakenings.com

  5. Yolanda Mason October 8, 2020 at 10:00 pm

    What a great article. I personally attend Gretchen’s classes. She makes dance, exercise, and yoga classes fun offering modifications if needed. I am glad she has a connection to Co op City.
    Thanks Gretchen


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