Joy de Soto uses her passion for fitness to help people exercise safely and do good in her community.
The owner of Birchwood Fitness, 105 Edella Road, Clarks Summit, de Soto not only provides a gym but also hosts fundraisers for members and nonmembers alike.
A native of Scranton’s Hill Section, de Soto moved to Waverly Twp. in third grade and graduated from Abington Heights High School in 1982. She earned a bachelor’s degree in human nutrition from University of Delaware and a master’s degree with a concentration in exercise physiology from Syracuse University. De Soto draws on that background as a personal trainer, nutritionist and group fitness instructor at Birchwood, which she took over in 2012.
There, de Soto also has supported a range of causes, including a virtual 5K and T-shirt fundraiser for a staff member who was diagnosed with breast cancer for the second time. The event raised money to defray some of the women’s medical expenses.
“We always try to participate in community and charity events, even if it’s just by donating memberships to fundraisers,” de Soto said.
At her gym, de Soto also has supported the St. Jude’s Ride for a Reason and the Ronald McDonald House’s Show Your Stripes 5K run. Birchwood hosted the four-hour Ride for a Reason in its spin room, and the gym put together a team for the 5K.
The Ronald McDonald House of Scranton, 332 Wheeler Ave., is especially close to de Soto’s heart, as her father is the one who brought it to the area.
“As the chief of pediatrics at (Community Medical Center) at the time, he saw the need for families to remain nearby (their children) during times of illness,” she said. “Having a child in the hospital has to be one of the most stressful situations a parent has to endure, and the Ronald McDonald house provides help to those in that situation when they live far (away).
“Before I moved back to the area, I was a research director at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Having been surrounded by children with various illnesses, you can’t help but want to do whatever you can for them and their families.”
De Soto also has helped organize the annual Gourmet Gala, the Ronald McDonald House of Scranton’s biggest fundraiser of the year. She’s been part of the team that contacted area restaurants to get them to participate in the food-centric event.
Her gym also has accepted donations of gloves, hats, scarves and coats for people in need.
“The less-fortunate people still need access to warm clothing,” de Soto said. “COVID-19 may limit that access even more this year. We have received some amazing items in the past, including coats.”
A mother of two, de Soto also stepped up to help with another cause close to her family. De Soto served on the committee for the Kristyn E. Kromko Memorial Scholarship Race, which honors a 16-year-old Abington Heights High School cheerleader who died as a result of car crash in 2010. Kristyn was a good friend of both of de Soto’s daughters, and de Soto saw the scholarship grow through the years thanks to the fundraiser.
“It started with one scholarship recipient and grew to three in a short period of time,” said de Soto, whose one daughter was the first recipient.
Since the coronavirus pandemic began, de Soto has also sought ways to give her gym’s members the chance to exercise while still social distancing. After having to shut down her business in March because of COVID-19 restrictions, de Soto implemented “Classes in the Backyard” in May when Lackawanna County entered the state’s yellow phase. Gyms couldn’t host people indoors during that period, so de Soto decided to offer the classes outdoors at a smaller capacity while maintaining social distancing.
With colder weather settling in, de Soto has moved the outdoor classes onto the tennis courts next door to her gym. The “Classes on the Courts” series gives clients a chance to exercise while feeling safe and comfortable.
She also continues to offer Silver Sneakers, a fitness program for people 65 and older “that provides gym access and classes for individuals with certain Medicare and supplemental insurance plans,” she said. Although Silver Sneakers doesn’t apply to everyone, de Soto hopes to combat this issue next year.
“We also partnered with RenewActive by United Healthcare and the Silver and Fit network for 2021,” she said. “This will allow more members from our community to participate in fitness that is tailored to their needs.”
While de Soto has been able to keep her community involvement and business going in these tough times, she lost out on the opportunity to continue conditioning the University of Scranton’s tennis teams. De Soto has worked with the teams for the past few years, running conditioning clinics for the men and women.
“I have really missed that opportunity this past fall due to COVID-19,” she said, “but am hopeful we will get back on track for the spring season.”
Meet Joy de Soto
- At home: A resident of Clarks Summit, she has two daughters Elena, 27, and Dana, 26. She is the daughter of Marilyn and Melvyn Wolk and the sister of Michael and Larry Wolk.
- At work: Owner of Birchwood Fitness, Clarks Summit
- Inspirations: Her family (“Growing up in a family full of doctors has always fed my desire to know more just to keep up with them,” she said) her her children, whom she said are are resilient, strong-willed and always kind.”
- Aspirations: To achieve more balance in her life where she can volunteer even more and spend more time in the community and with her family.
- Diversions: Working out; spending time outdoors, such as hiking and walking; traveling to visit her children; and walking and playing with her dogs.
- Aversions: Boredom, injury, illness, and when she doesn’t feel strong or motivated
- Quote: “Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass; it’s about learning how to dance in the rain.”
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