Carol Tweedy is a slim, active, high-energy person, as befits the Executive Director of Asphalt Green (AG), New York’s unique not-for-profit sports and fitness center at 91st Street and York Avenue. She presides over a 5.5 acre sports oasis with state-of-the-art facilities, including: the city’s only 50-meter Olympic pool; a five-floor, 5,000 square foot fitness center; a Super-Turf outdoor athletic field; and some of the best trainers, teachers and elite athletes in the health and fitness field. (See more photos of Asphalt Green in Snapping Around).
Until she joined Asphalt Green, in 1994, physical fitness did not play a major role in Tweedy’s professional or personal life. She vividly recalls, in fact, that, “as a pre-Title IX kid, growing up in Queens, girls were not encouraged to move.” Moreover, in the pre-women’s lib ‘60’s, they were largely slotted into “women’s” professions.
“That I got into social work is a woman’s story,” says Tweedy, who wanted to go to graduate school in psychology, but was told by a male professor at the University of Michigan that, “We don’t want women in the field. ” He added, “I don’t think you’re smart enough, and you’re just going to have a baby, anyway.” “I believed him,” says Tweedy, who went to graduate school in social work, headed down a conventional clinical track. But she switched to community organization administration after a successful summer job between her first and second year in graduate school. “It was the best decision I ever made.”
Since graduate school she’s resonated to social policy issues in community organizations ranging from youth service and mental health to probation and senior services. Along the way, she married, divorced, never had kids, but delivered programs that’s inspired many children in need. She’s developed such outstanding skills as an executive that she received a Columbia Business School leadership award from the Institute for Not-for-Profit Management.
“Helping people experience their own strengths to face life challenges is what my career has been all about, whether it was a kid on the run or a home-bound senior citizen or an adult who couldn’t read or a child who couldn’t swim. The thread that ties it all together is my passion for making a difference in people’s lives.”
When Tweedy arrived at Asphalt Green, the organization was bleeding red ink and unimaginatively serving the community. She eliminated a $2 million deficit, ran a successful capital campaign, developed new youth, adult and senior programs, and shifted the Center’s mission to its present focus on providing a range of health-through-fitness services for everyone from neighborhood couch potatoes to competitive athletes. Today, AG has a membership of 3,000, which covers 80 percent of the organization’s $10 million budget (the rest comes from individuals, special events and foundations), but its overall reach is far greater, closer to 40,000.
AG, perched on city land, is required to give a third of its service back to the community. That piece of its mission particularly resonated with Tweedy, given her 35-year community service career. Prior to Asphalt Green, she was Executive Director of the Stanley M. Isaacs Neighborhood Center. She’s found new ways to make fitness and athletics available to children, young people, families and seniors in low income and underserved communities.
Tweedy, who works out with a personal trainer and occasionally drops in on AG’s adult fitness classes, is passionate about the need to get people moving again. “We’ve become a sedentary, overweight society in which people are disinclined, for a variety of complex reasons, to work our bodies. If you are not physically active, you’re not going to be physically fit, and that’s what Asphalt Green brings to the obesity issue.”
Today, obesity and fitness are front and center on the national agenda. New York City school children are particularly at risk. Research shows, for example, that 43% in grades K-5 are overweight, and that 80% of children overweight at ages 10 through 15 will be obese adults at age 25. They will face serious health risks, including Type 2 diabetes, asthma and heart disease. To combat this crisis AG has launched a number of model programs on and off its York Avenue campus.
Tweedy is particularly proud of AG’s innovative partnerships with public schools, to help address the lack of physical education in their curriculum. “As the expertise within AG developed, it was clear to me we should move our special intellectual capital off campus.” For example, invited by a parent to take a look at her child’s public school recess period, where no sports were organized or supervised, AG developed a Recess Enhancement Program that is now being used at 16 public schools. It engages kids in games that are active, but minimize competition and teach conflict resolution.
AG is also working with a group of middle school girls in East Harlem to create a basketball league. “Children need to develop comfort with movement, but some of these girls don’t even know how to run.” In the area of senior service, when Tweedy became aware that the Department of Aging’s understanding of senior fitness was behind the times, she offered to have AG rewrite their fitness curriculum. She is thrilled with the results. The Department printed 10,000 copies of the new training manual. AG also trained 170 volunteers to implement the manual and put together an at-home version, for home bound seniors, as well.
Overall, AG’s recreational programs and services have transformed the neighborhood. Day and night, twelve months a year, the place is a beehive of activity, providing the kind of services suburban parents take for granted, including community sports leagues, a vast summer day camp program, gym classes, soccer, basketball, flag-football and swimming programs, adult aerobics, yoga, Pilates and fitness classes, as well as a state-of-the-art gym with sweeping views of the East River, Randall’s Island and three of Manhattan’s bridges.
The jewel in the crown is the Aqua Center and its elite swim team that has already placed seven kids in Olympic trials. The pool’s huge size, warm water and moveable floor make it an everyday resource for swimmers doing laps, competitive meets, mom-and-toddler sessions as well as wheelchair-bound rehab programs.
“When I first arrived, public school kids were coming to the pool for recreational swim. They weren’t learning a thing.” Tweedy launched a “Waterproofing” program for public school children, focused not only on teaching them how to swim but also on developing life-long skills that promote self-confidence and fitness. As one East Harlem 4th Grader proclaimed, “If I can swim I can do anything.” The program has been so successful that in January, AG was given access to two pools in Harlem, which will further extend its reach. “I’m thrilled about that,” says Tweedy.
Tweedy’s energy and enthusiasm help explain how she has expanded Asphalt Green from, as she puts it, “a place to a concept.”
This transformation was reinforced just a few weeks ago when AG won a competitive bid to operate Asphalt Green Battery Park City. It is Manhattan’s newest, state-of-the art, 52,000 square foot community center – including a 25-yard pool and institutional kitchen. Tweedy hopes to inaugurate obesity prevention programs for kids in its kitchen, when the facility opens in January 2012.
“Now we are a citywide institution with the skills and management confidence to deliver community activities anywhere.”
Clearly, Carol Tweedy is in the right place at the right time. With obesity a growing medical, financial and social problem, she has created health-and-fitness programs, partnerships, services and specialists that have much to offer communities throughout the city.
For more information on Asphalt Green, go to www.asphaltgreen.org
Woman Around Town’s Six Questions
Favorite Place to Eat: Le Bernardin for very special occassions
Favorite Place to Shop: Saks
Favorite New York Sight: View of the Triborough Bridge from the windows of the Fitness Center at Asphalt Green
Favorite New York Moment: When the setting sun lines up with the blocks
What You Love about New York: The Subway
What You Hate about New York: The noise