Inaugural Lifestyle Change Award goes to woman who helped others improve their health

Inaugural Lifestyle Change Award goes to woman who helped others improve their health

Barb Hess, right, and her husband Tom participate in the virtual Capital Region Heart Walk in 2021. Hess is receiving the Capital Region’s first Lifestyle Change Award, for her work with the American Heart Association that made it easy for others to improve their health.

Retired Broadview Federal Credit Union executive Barb Hess has been a champion of the American Heart Association for years. She has chaired the Go Red for Women Luncheon and Capital Region Heart Walk and served on and chaired the association’s board of directors. More important, Hess brought the association’s mission of healthy living to the hundreds of people who worked at Broadview Federal Credit Union, formerly known as SEFCU, and the entire Capital Region community.

The American Heart Association will honor Barb Hess, recently retired chief administrative officer at Broadview, with its inaugural Lifestyle Change Award at the Capital Region Heart Walk at the W. Averell Harriman State Office Building Campus on June 4.

“We created this award so we can acknowledge the changes that people make to improve their health,” said Kaweeda Adams, chair of the Board of Directors of the American Heart Association in the Capital Region. “When thinking about a worthy recipient for the first year, we immediately thought of all the ways Barb has worked with the American Heart Association. By living our mission, and championing our message of health and wellness at her workplace and in our community, she has made it possible for many people to know what steps they can take to improve their health. Barb always walked the walk, and made it easy for others to take that walk, too.”

“This award feels so meaningful, and it brought a tear to my eye,” Hess said. “I’m really humbled and honored to be the first person selected for this award.”

Hess’ work with the American Heart Association began in 2009, when she chaired the Go Red for Women Luncheon. She then joined the board of directors, and chaired the Capital Region Heart Walk in 2014. Throughout that time, she also served on committees for the Go Red movement and the Heart Walk.

“In addition to supporting us, Barb brought the American Heart Association to Broadview,” Adams said. “Under her leadership, the credit union’s buildings always illuminated red on Wear Red Day, during American Heart Month, and the organization hosted many Glow Red ceremonies. Staff at Broadview always support our events, and I suspect they are following Barb’s strong lead. From hosting ‘Healthy Cupcake Wars,’ and basketball games on the company court to selling paper hearts in local branches, like Barb, Broadview always brings its A-game to support the Heart Association.”

Hess also brought the BetterU to then-SEFCU, where staff could participate in a 12-week heart-health improvement program.

“When I first started with the Heart Association, I didn’t realize the serious risk that heart disease poses to all of us – women, men, and children,” Hess said. “Knowing that while some forms of cardiovascular disease are not preventable, many are. There are opportunities for us to avoid, minimize, or mitigate very dangerous heart-related issues. Medical professionals are the real heroes, but those of us who are not can become heroes by developing awareness about heart disease, talking about it, and supporting the cause any way we can.”

Hess said that as the credit union family of companies became more connected with the American Heart Association, a culture of employee well-being and wellness grew at the organization. And, she said, it was often fun.

“When I started with the Go Red for Women Luncheon, we were about 70% female, so it was a game-changer to address the biggest threat to women’s health, heart disease,” she said. “The Heart Walk is a grassroots movement, and so many people in our organization have contributed in one way or another. People have walked, donated, and participated in fundraising events at our locations. We’ve had a lot of laughs and fun, to support camaraderie and teamwork even as we do this important work. The two don’t have to be mutually exclusive.”

Bringing the knowledge of health and wellbeing to her workplace increased Hess’ enjoyment of her work.

“I was at Broadview –  then SEFCU – for 25 years,” she said. “I felt like I had the best job on the planet all that time. It’s a very supportive organization, and especially supportive of my efforts and the American Heart Association.  That started at the top, with our CEO Michael Castellana.”

When she and coworkers were at Heart Association events, Hess always found touching moments, many of which began with her own coworkers.

“We’ve lost active employees to heart disease, and we have employees whose children are born with heart defects,” Hess said. “Stroke survivors within our organization have shared their stories with us and throughout the community. When you go to the Heart Walk, you realize that this is a disease that touches everyone. We hear the stories of children born with congenital heart defects, who had surgeries right after they were born. We see the amazing work the cardiologists do in our community and you see the families and friends who rally around the survivors, and the people there in memory of someone, or to support someone. You realize that heart disease and stroke touches everyone in some way.”

Hess also knows firsthand how stroke can affect someone. Her father had a debilitating stroke when he was 69.

“He lived with very limited speech and mobility until his early 80s,” Hess said. “The difficult thing about that was what we didn’t know – we didn’t know the warning signs that would have told us he was having a stroke. That’s a deeply troubling thought, and if we’d known the acronym FAST – Face Drooping, Arm Weakness, Slurred Speech, Time to Call 911 – there might have been a different outcome.”

Recently retired, Hess and her husband Tom plan a lot of travel, including visiting their adult daughter, Rachel, and new grandchild. The Niskayuna resident is looking forward to more skiing and gardening – and re-engaging with activities of daily life.

“I used to like to grocery shop, and cook,” she said. “As days got busier, that became a chore, not a joy. Now that I have time again, I’m enjoying cooking and even grocery shopping.”

She remains active in the community, and will continue volunteering.

“Spreading the word, educating others – hopefully, that can prevent the kind of suffering that otherwise, people might be facing,” she said. “Knowledge is power.”

In future years, the Lifestyle Change Award will go to someone who makes changes that improve their health. Hess had simple advice for them.

“Small changes can make a big difference,” she said. “You don’t have to change everything all at once. Changes are cumulative and contagious. When you start to make them, there’s a snowball effect, and the success of those changes will lead to more. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.”

To be part of the Capital Region Heart Walk and Run, or to donate, visit