I began working with the Medea Project: Theater for Incarcerated Women/HIV Circle shortly after I moved to San Francisco in 2008. This opportunity allowed me to create theater with women who were living with HIV to help release the stigma around the virus. While working there, I met Cassandra Steptoe, a survivor of sexual abuse, addiction, incarceration, and HIV. I also learned that Cassandra was a thriving and radiant grandmother of nine who was raising her beautiful seven-year-old granddaughter, Vassidy, who we call the “Cupcake of Light.” Check out Cassandra's video here:

Meeting Cassandra and the other women of Medea opened my eyes to the realities of poverty. I grew up in an upper middle class suburb of Boston, and while I had long understood that poverty was ‘problematic,’ it wasn't until meeting these women that I truly grasped the harsh realities of economic disparities. Wondering how you would afford to buy your child a birthday gift. Growing up in a community plagued by crack addiction and gun violence. Choosing to walk instead of taking the bus just to save a few dollars.

"Through my work with Medea, it became clear that we are not brought into this world on an equal playing field and it no longer felt responsible to ignore this fact."

When Cassandra mentioned that she was struggling with her weight two years ago, I invited her to come train with me at the gym for free. What emerged was a two-year training period where Cassandra not only lost 20 lbs, but also learned to love exercise and had more energy for her granddaughter (who sometimes joined us for sessions!). What emerged for me personally, was the honor of getting to closely know an extraordinary woman who had literally been through hell and back. And to see, first hand, that anything is truly possible.

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Inspired by my experience, I reached out to Billy and Gina to see if they would be open to creating the DIAKADI Difference Program, where other trainers could also offer their services to people who wanted to make a big change in their health and fitness routines, but couldn't due to financial constraints or difficult life circumstances. Met with an enthusiastic “yes!,” the three of us set out to design the DIAKADI Difference Program, which allows a participant to work with trainers once to twice a week for three months, focusing on fitness, diet, and lifestyle choices.

We are thrilled to announce that the program successfully launched a few weeks ago! We have two trainers, Jon De La Torre and Elaine Williams, who are kicking ass with clients Kathy, a mother of three and Nicole, a mother of five (read about their experiences below)!

I am so grateful to Jon and Elaine for committing their time, energy, and resources to this program and to Kathy and Nicole for showing up with so much enthusiasm, readiness, and dedication. Step by step, person by person, my hope is that the DIAKADI Difference Program can help improve the lives of those who are ready to make a change in their health, regardless of their life circumstances.

Do you know someone who could benefit from the DIAKADI Difference program? Have them fill out an application here!

Come check out the Medea Project at their upcoming show, Birthright?, at Brava Theater in collaboration with Planned Parenthood, April 9-19, 2015.

What the DIAKADI Difference Participants have to say:

Kathy James-McWay (Participant): I’ve wanted to get myself in shape and in good health for a while. I was tired of being out of breath when I would go down the stairs and back up, tired of being overweight, and not being able to walk for a long distance.

My goals are to lose at least ten pounds, get some of the body fat off, and to tone my body, and turn the fat into muscle.  I would also like to be able to walk up and down stairs and not be tired, and turn my long walks into jogs.

My experience has been totally new to me; I’m doing things I’ve never done before, but it’s all good and I’m having a great time.  Jon is a great trainer. He pushes me and encourages me at the same time; I need that.  Thank you all for the opportunity!

JDLT Kathy DIAKADI Diff Mar 2015 103
JDLT Kathy DIAKADI Diff Mar 2015 103

Jon De La Torre (Trainer): When Polina first presented the DIAKADI Difference program, I knew it was something I wanted to be a part of. To have the chance to help another person enhance their life through exercise and wellness, sign me up! Though it's only been a short amount of time so far, I've really enjoyed working with Kathy, and feel like we've been doing so for years! Our sessions are always so enjoyable, and Kathy always comes to work hard!

I look forward to helping her reach her goals and beyond!

Nicole Rodriguez (Participant): I'm so blessed to become part of such a huge loving family at DIAKADI. Since working with Elaine I have felt encouraged and supported in every way possible. Elaine has such positive energy that its contagious and her feedback motivates me to make healthy choices. I look forward to our weekly meeting she is such a perfect fit in my life having someone like her by my side makes working out fun and exciting.

Elaine Nicole DIAKADI Diff Mar 2015 045
Elaine Nicole DIAKADI Diff Mar 2015 045

Elaine Williams (Trainer): When I first heard about the DIAKADI Difference program I felt an absolute YES in all cells of my body, it's like the physical alignment that I strive for when I'm doing any exercise!  So, with my inner wisdom on board, I knew this would be a fun journey and it would allow me to step outside of my box--it's not everyday I go looking for clients that can not afford my services:)  While I've been told that "I INSPIRE", I know "Like Attracts Like", and Nicole is my greatest Inspiration right now!  Given Nicole's life experiences so far, she could have given up on her health a long time ago, but she didn't and that's why she and I are working together.

We Both agree at a deep cellular level, that We deserve to be healthy, strong, sexy, beautiful, full of energy, and overflowing with Love! 

Since we both said YES to this process, and are truly excited about it, we are learning a lot from each other and are gaining the knowledge we need that comes from giving ourselves 100% to the process!  It's only been the 2nd session and Nicole has had some amazing breakthroughs in her mind & body that will only increase her energy levels, bring about more balance, and lift her up in feeling more playful and free in her body!

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