go Vibrant’s Passionate Pursuit of Making Activity Irresistible

go Vibrant is a 501c3 non profit, but not your typical non-profit and it did not start out to become one. go Vibrant started with a few people with a passion to make a city (Cincinnati) healthier. Since 2009, our journey has taken us to building a network of walking routes that has got thousands of people walking and building a series of play-like experiences in parks that make activity irresistible for millions of people. And this is with an all volunteer board, two part time employees and a lean operation — so lean that we don’t even have physical office space (who needs it these days anyway?) or even storage. Well storage is the basement of our founder’s house so technically we do have storage.

go Vibrant was the brainchild of Mark Jeffreys when he was at P&G. Mark has always had a passion for health and fitness and having lost his mother to a heart attack at a young age also has a passion for getting others healthy. While at P&G, Mark got involved with P&G’s employee wellness program, which at the time was installing walking routes in some of the more suburban campuses. However, at the downtown offices, carving out a walking route is not as easy. So Mark reached out to a few friends at other companies to see how to make it happen and talked to some early supporters like Eric Avner at the Haile Foundation and Sandy Walker at the YMCA. It was in those early days that Mark met Christy Zerges who had a similar passion (Christy would became our Program Coordinator and been with us from the beginning). Before he knew it, Mark was testifying at Cincinnati City Council to get approval for physical signs to mark 1, 2 and 3 mile routes downtown.

After launching the routes with a community walk, and expanding to other activities including Scavenger Hunts, Boombox Walks, and Silly Sock Walks, interest grew in other neighborhoods for similar routes. And in 2012, go Vibrant expanded to making healthier food more accessible via a parternship with the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber to launch Vibrant Menu options at the Taste of Cincinnati.

In the subsequent seven years, that has grown to over 40 items that are healthier, but tasty. Somewhere along that way, Mark knew that go Vibrant needed to formalize its organizational structure so it formed as a 501c3 with an all volunteer board of ~15 people in 2011.

At the time of its founding, the go Vibrant mission statement was “making healthy living easier”. The vision was to transform physical spaces to make activity easier — removing barriers to getting healthy — while creating a culture that had a bias for health. But the board recognized that “making healthy living easier” was a very functional idea. Removing barriers of time, money or other things in the way of a more vibrant life.is needed, but not as inspiring a mission After a few hours of discussion at a board retreat, the mission statement was revised to what it is today: “making an active, energetic life irresistible”.

The operative word in that mission statement of course is “irresistible”. Anything that irresistible is something you just want to do. The insight is that when activity feels like play then it is irresistible. Think back when you were a kid: playlike activity was irresistible. You played tag, capture the flag, climbed trees, rode a bike, or just walked in the woods. All because it was fun and playlike. And you got “exercise” while doing it.

That insight to make everything irresistible has inspired all that we do — particularly around the focus area of walking. Since that first walking route downtown, with the leadership of our Executive Director Laura Chrysler, we have expanded to over 18 neighborhoods covering Greater Cincinnati — with Pleasant Ridge and Mount Washington being the newest ones in 2018 and Clifton about to come on in 2019. And we just completed the third Annual Million Step Challenge that has neighborhoods competing for which ones can walk the most steps with irresistible events such as the Zombie Walk. Why focus on walking? Because there is no barrier to walking. It does not require money, training or special clothes to buy. No one makes fun of you for not “doing it right” and you can do it any time and any place — from work or home. So enabling walking just steps from any door will continue to be at the core of what go Vibrant is about.

The other core of what go Vibrant is about is creating those playlike experiences where residents are enticed to participate in experiences that is so irresistible without even realizing they are “getting exercise”. That has come to life in a few ways.

go Vibrantscape at Smale Riverfront Park

First, via the P&G go Vibrantscape at Smale Riverfront Park. While today that experience is filled with unique features such as the world’s largest outdoor foot piano (think the movie Big, but outside), the flying pig that requires balance to climb into and energy to make “fly”, poles with bells on top to encourage races, etc. But this was not always that way.

Back in the early 2000s, that 4.5 acres was a dilapidated concrete parking lot. It went from that to what is is today after Mark went to Vienna, Austria with his wife and came back having been inspired by a park where movement caused things to happen whether it be water, sound, etc. He met with Sean Parker — who was at P&G at the time — in the lobby of P&G and in an offhand comment talked about how it would be great to bring that type of experience to Cincinnati. Sean’s reaction was unexpected: how quickly could you make it happen? Sean explained that P&G was considering a gift to the City of Cincinnati for its 175th Anniversary of $500K, but didn’t want to just give money. Instead it wanted an idea. The following week, through the partnership with Landor Associates who had already designed go Vibrant’s branding, go Vibrant pulled together an ideation session involving the most creative minds in Cincinnati. The output of that led P&G to increase it’s gift to $1 million in 2013 and the P&G go Vibrantscape was opened in 2015.

That model of creating irresistible experiences within parks was then expanded to a newly opened Ziegler Park in 2017 with among other things outdoor ping pong tables with vibrant colors — funded by the go Vibrant board of directors. To enable play, go Vibrant has expanded its partnership with 3CDC in Washington Park and the Play Now initiative. What is Play Now? Play Now offers fresbees, balls, ping pong paddles, etc to anyone for free. The concept is: Borrrow, Play, Return. It’s the honor’s system — offered through 3CDC staff on site. This is an initiative on which in 2019 we are working to expand to other locations such as Cincinnati Recreation Commission sites.

In 2018, we took this model of creating irresistible experiences into neighborhoods with the installation of a series of unique experiences in Fleishman Gardens — a Cincinnati Park — in Avondale. Through our partnership with the Avondale Community Development Corporation over the past few years on our walking routes and Million Step Challenge, both organizations wanted to make the Avondale routes even more irresistible to walk. We partnered again with Landor Associates design firm and did an “Amazing Race” type creative exercise to ideate ways to make that happen. In partnership with the neighborhood we walked the routes. After testifying before Cincinnati City Council and getting the approval of the Cincinnati Parks, in October 2018, we completed Phased I of this effort with the dancing feet and “Mash Up” feature in Fleishman Gardens. Dancing feet is self-explanatory — it encourages dancing along the path. And Mash Up is a new creative idea: It’s Twister meets Hopscotch — making it irresitisble to play together. Phase II will open in 2019 and will include 50 yard dash points in the neighborhood and zoo prints throughout renovated sidewalks.

As we move forward, go Vibrant will continue to be what it has always been: a small group of people with a fairly small budget (<$100K/year since its founding) and lean operation who through partnership and creativity look to have an oversized impact on a community. The end result being building a healthier, more vibrant Cincinnati where getting healthy is not a chore, but something that is so irresistible that everyone wants to join in together!

go Vibrantscape Foot Piano at Smale Riverfront Park

Reach out to Laura Chrysler, our Executive Director, at lchrysler@govibrant.org to learn more or if you want to make a donation then simply visit us at www.govibrant.org.

Dad/husband, entrepreneur/builder, former P&G executive, non-profit founder, dancer, mason, son of immigrant, and lover of parks, the arts, Cincinnati, & travel