Joy Millner, LHWHS class of 1980 (pictured above, right), was on track to pursue a successful career in marketing at a Fortune 500 company in Dallas when she pivoted toward the passion that has sustained her ever since: fitness and nutrition. When she and her husband, Rob Millner (class of 1979 and an LEF Honorary Board member), moved back to St. Louis in 1995, Joy continued to teach fitness classes and raise her three children, enrolling them all in the Ladue School District. "I loved my experience at Ladue. But I started from scratch, doing the research to make sure we were choosing the best schools, and it turned out we were." All three of her children have now graduated from Ladue Horton Watkins High School.
As the kids grew older, Joy became more and more determined to help nearby communities have access to similar advantages. "I’m the biggest fan and supporter of our district, but there’s a whole world that doesn’t have what we have." She decided to combine her passions of wellness and health with giving back. "I knocked on a door in North St. Louis and asked if I could hold a group fitness class, and I started mentoring and encouraging people."
She eventually co-founded the nonprofit, the Fit and Food Connection (FAFC), with her partner, Gabrielle Cole. "She was feeding people in North St. Louis, where she's from, and we joined forces. We soon realized there was nothing like it being done, and it was so needed." They now have run five programs: a community garden, a food assistance program (which delivers healthy food to 20-30 families each week), group fitness classes, group nutrition classes, and one-on-one programs with physical trainers, nutritionists and instructors. "Everything we do is free, as long as they meet the goals they've set for themselves," explains Joy, "and we always include an education component."
Joy is full of enthusiasm for the work she feels privileged to do, helping address the impact of poverty on health. "We're an all-volunteer run organization, with volunteers from several countries and states that wake up every day to make St. Louis a better place," Joy says. I am lucky to be doing this work." Although her focus might appear at first to be directed toward the health of the body, Joy actually feels the key is the support, encouragement and stress relief their programs provide from a holistic standpoint. "If you love people from the inside out, their whole lives get transformed."
To learn more about Joy's work with FAFC and support their work with donations, please visit their website.