Donna Helsley

Donna Helsley prepares lunches at the Long Beach Senior Center.

Donna Helsley is a fitness fanatic.

She has walked the Long Beach half marathon twice, walks 10 miles every day, and teaches 10, yes, 10, exercise classes a week at the Long Beach Senior Center where she supervises the fitness gym. Helsley even supports a walking club for seniors in her neighborhood.

Clearly, her boots are made for walking. And for helping others.

Helsley takes an extra step when it comes to helping people, too, making sure seniors receive their food packages at the center, located at 1150 E. Fourth St.

If that isn’t enough, the retired substitute school teacher donated all of her $1,200 stimulus check to people who could use the money more than she could.

“The virus hasn’t impacted me and I’m doing okay,” Helsley said. “So, I donated the check to four organizations: Second Harvest Food Bank of Orange County, Long Beach Partners of Parks, Long Beach Community Foundation Mayor’s Fund and the Mayor’s Fund for Los Angeles. I thought I would give the money to people that really need it.”

Karen Reside has seen first-hand how Helsley has contributed to the Senior Center.

“Donna was one of the first people I met at the Senior Center,” Reside said. “I actually talked to her about joining the gym and doing activities. She walks everywhere. She’s extremely friendly and outgoing and direct. She tells you what you need to hear even if you don’t want to hear it. She’s done so much to for the people at the center.”

Reside, a volunteer with the Gray Panthers, said food is a major issue for seniors in the downtown area and Helsley has been a major motivator in getting people to get their free packages.

“She makes everyone sign up,” Reason said, “so it was easy to see how our organization and Partners of Parks could unveil a fund to give grocery cards to seniors and call it the Donna Helsley Food Fund.”

Helsley took the honor in stride, saying she is just trying to keep everyone active and mobile.

“I’m just committed to the well-being of seniors,” she said.

Helsley, who will be turning 65 this year, joined the Air Force straight out of high school. She was an airman for 20 years with stints in Spain and Korea. When she returned, she earned her teaching credential from National University and taught kindergarten through fifth grade.

Eight years ago, Helsley admits she was a couch potato. A visit with her doctor alerted her to the fact that her heart was working too hard. So in 2012, she made a New Year’s resolution to walk 10 miles a day.

If you want to walk a mile — or 10 — in her shoes, then be prepared because she logs at least 30,000 steps every day. On Saturdays, she walks the thigh-aching slopes of Signal Hill and Sundays are spent on the pedestrian beach paths. And while the Senior Center is only open now for the food distribution program, when the gym is open, Helsley teaches three days a week with weights and resistance bands and helps everyone work on their balance.

“I’m a hard worker,” she understated, “but I do love to exercise.”

The food fund in Helsley’s name was established because of the coronavirus, but plans are to continue it after the city recovers. Donations can be mailed to Long Beach Gray Panthers, Senior Center, 1150 E. Fourth St., Long Beach, 90802, or online at weblink.donorperfect.com/GrayPanthers. For more information, call 562-353-7015 or email longbeachgraypanthers@gmail.com.

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