Val Fleurantin Turner was living the life she imagined for herself when she was growing up in Haiti. She had just relocated from Florida to Minnesota for a software engineering job. She was a new wife and soon-to-be-mom who was moving up the ranks at the largest medical device company in the world. Then, as she participated in an emerging leaders’ program, everything changed. She conducted informational interviews with senior leaders to learn about juggling professional and personal responsibilities and noticed a common theme. They all regretted not being there to raise their kids. Val couldn’t imagine missing out on her child’s life, so she made a difficult decision—she jumped off the leadership track.
Things changed for Val after that. She was happy when she got to work on a new project, but it always seemed to be short-lived. After eight years, she was laid off, and she accepted a new position as a data scientist for another Minnesota-based corporation. While working there, she and her husband got divorced. In addition to single parenthood, Val was juggling a challenging MBA program and her demanding corporate career. It all left her mentally and physically exhausted. Without knowing what she’d do next, Val decided to put her MBA on hold and quit her job.
For a while, Val felt stuck. She did a lot of soul searching. She spent time working out because physical activity had always made her feel better emotionally. She immersed herself in the North Minneapolis neighborhood her now ex-husband had chosen for them—something she hadn’t done in the past because she was too busy working. She discovered a vibrant and well-connected community. She began listening to a local radio station whenever she was in the car. News stories reporting data about health disparities on the Northside caught her attention. She realized she lived in one of the healthiest states in the nation, yet people in her largely African-American community were suffering because they didn’t have access to resources like healthy food and the health care they needed.
On her way to pick up her son from day care after a workout one day, Val began praying in her car. She was hoping for a sign about what she should do next. The answer that came to her: Become a fitness instructor and make an impact in your community. When she arrived at the day care center, the director asked her what she did for a living. Val explained that she was in between jobs and considering what she was truly passionate about. The director looked at her and said, “You should be a fitness instructor.” That was the confirmation Val needed. Just a few weeks later, she became a certified Zumba instructor.
Today she is “Coach Val” and she is on a mission to create a fitness and well-being movement in her community and beyond. It took time to figure out her business model. She knew the key to having the greatest impact was offering her programs at no cost. But she had gone from a six-figure income to no income and had depleted her resources. So she connected with the Minneapolis Urban League, a nonprofit whose space on a busy street had large front windows. She thought partnering to host classes there would draw attention from passersby, and she was right. Classes began filling up and demand continued to increase. Community leaders she met with recommended that Val apply for grants and local funding to subsidize her programs. She expanded her offerings to other community centers and parks. It’s the funding model she continues to use today.
As participants—and especially women—started sharing stories about how their lives were changing as a result of joining an empowered community and being physically active, Val was inspired to do more. She became a certified lifestyle coach and now teaches classes on weight loss and diabetes prevention. She uses holistic approach that addresses physical, mental, spiritual and emotional well-being. Her goal is to create a healthy lifestyle movement that has generational impact in urban communities across the country.
Val couldn’t be happier she jumped off the corporate ladder. It has enabled her to prioritize the things that matter most to her—her son, her well-being and her community. It has also allowed her to follow in the footsteps of her grandmothers, who were both successful business owners in Haiti, and whose example Val always imagined she would follow.
To learn more about Val’s business, visit her Facebook.
Photo: Val Turner
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