Lehla Olson finds her passion in building up others. As a learning and literacy specialist at Greene Street Friends School, she works with teachers, students, and families to provide supports for diverse learners. In this role, she finds joy in seeing young people work towards their own potential – whatever that may be. After the “school day” ends, she continues to build up others as a group fitness instructor – teaching fitness classes in Philadelphia.

Lehla earned her undergraduate degree in music education and Asian studies from St. Olaf College in

Northfield, MN. Since moving to Philadelphia through AmeriCorps’ Teach for America program, she has continued to teach and advocate for educational equity in Philadelphia’s public, charter, and independent school communities. She earned her master’s degree in special education from Chestnut Hill College to help her meet the needs of young people with cognitive, socio-emotional, and behavioral needs. She will tell you that none of her work is insular or a one-person show – rather, it really takes “the village” to raise and support children.

In her “free” time, she discovered a love for dance fitness when she walked into a Zumba® Fitness class. This “return” to the world of music inspired a passion for sharing music through movement. Lehla joined the group fitness world as a Zumba® Fitness instructor, eventually teaching choreography to other instructors through the Zumba Instructor Network™. This gave Lehla more ways to connect with others and help people reach personal and/or professional goals. It has also been a place where charity and advocacy work is valued and encouraged. Her weekends and summers are filled with charity events, also known as Zumbathons™. These events garner support or promote awareness around a focused organization, campaign, or person. Some of the regular organizations and causes for which Lehla volunteers include MS Society, Lupus Foundation of America, Autism Speaks, Jacqueline’s Grace Project for Trisomy Awareness, and the Susan G. Komen Foundation, as well as individuals in need within our Philadelphia community. These events combine a focused mission with a community of loving and powerful support in a unique way. Not only do people leave stronger physically from the dance, but also spiritually fortified – knowing a community of intentional and positive energy is behind them. This is what drives Lehla to continue sharing her time and talent in this way.

As distinct as these two areas of “work” may seem at first, Lehla sees a strong unifying theme to them. Both provide a place to find and honor people wherever they are – whatever age, background, ability – and create an experience, a plan, and a connection that works to build people up. Lehla lights up at the chance to make someone smile and help someone believe that there is more possible for them than they may have thought.

waapoll Womens Achievement Awards Nominee: Lehla Olson

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