SUCCESS STORY / Ilsa Mendoza-Jackson, 59, of Sandy Springs, ‘I kind of felt like I was going back to Mayberry, I got to know the neighbors and the mailman.’

Editor’s note: When the pandemic shut down gyms and indoor exercising, Ilsa Mendoza-Jackson and her neighbors formed their own workout group. Last week, we featured Pamela Zendt, who is a co-leader along with Mendoza-Jackson.

When she started: August 2020

Personal life: “I’ve been a sales professional for over 35 years. Between my husband and I, we have eight kids,” Mendoza-Jackson said. “We have five girls, three boys and two grandsons.” She lives in Sandy Springs.

The lifestyle change: “My personal journey to fitness started years ago in college,” Mendoza-Jackson said. “I was determined not to fall into the pattern of ballooning and staying there.” For years she took dance classes. Following college, she began teaching an aerobic dance class. With her history of teaching fitness, one day during the pandemic she gathered with her neighbors in the cul-de-sac. “We were sitting out there one day ... talking about how much we missed working out. We just started thinking wouldn’t it be kind of fun if we could re-create the gym here,” she said. “At that moment, that day, we decided we’re going to try this. We started by inviting a few people in our cul-de-sac.” An idea was born, and Mendoza-Jackson became co-leader of what they call the P.E. group. “Willie Ramsey, our mailman, he is the most adorable man, same age group as us. He would joke that he was going to join us. The most awesome, wonderful man that as part of our journey I got to know,” Mendoza-Jackson said. “I kind of felt like I was going back to Mayberry. I got to know the neighbors, the mailman, the UPS man. ... I’m getting to know all the people in my neighborhood.”

Change in eating habits: The group shares healthy recipes and healthy eating ideas in their group text. Mendoza-Jackson didn’t specifically change her eating habits other than eating at home more due to the pandemic.

Ilsa’s how-tos:

1. Can-do spirit: “We started with a core group that has a can-do spirit. We were all people who wanted to make it happen and would find a way.”

2. The cul-de-sac: “You do need a place. We’re blessed to have the cul-de-sac.”

3. Bring the fun: “Music can make anything fun to me. I wanted to make memories for people with the music. I brought my son’s boombox and a song playlist.”

Exercise routine: “I exercise three days a week with this group,” Mendoza-Jackson said. She also plays pickleball twice a week and takes regular neighborhood walks.

Biggest challenge: “I wanted to try something a little different with exercise bands and it wasn’t the right fit for everybody,” she said. “That is my personal challenge to keep in mind we can’t try everything.”

Ilsa’s top tips:

  • “Don’t give up. If the first couple of times you try to do it and it doesn’t work, change it up and try something different.
  • “At the end of the day, it’s all about having some personal fun.”
  • “I think there’s a mental fitness we’re gaining in conversation and connection.”

How has life changed: “I have gotten to know my neighbors way more intimately than I would have ever dreamed — that is the biggest blessing for me,” Mendoza-Jackson said. “We’ve expanded into other areas of fun, like having a little bonfire one day, shooting off fireworks on the 4th, and having picnics together. It’s absolutely possible in a big city to still have that neighborhood feel.”

Seeking readers’ stories of lifestyle changes: We’re looking for stories about changing health habits. While The Atlanta Journal-Constitution does not endorse any specific programs, we include names and links for the benefit of readers who want further information. If you would like to share your story of a lifestyle change, please contact reporter Michelle C. Brooks and include your email address, phone number, and before and after photos (by mail or JPEG). You can email her directly at: