Creating purpose from passion: Rochelle Palmer’s mission to empower women through fitness and health

In a world where health, wellness, and fitness are becoming increasingly top-of-mind, Durham College’s (DC) Fitness and Health Promotion program stands out as a perfect opportunity for individuals like Rochelle Palmer. Rochelle’s journey, from completing the Early Childhood Education (ECE) program at DC to becoming a successful entrepreneur in the health and fitness industry and now, a new founder, showcases the true power of following your heart through education.

Rochelle’s story and commitment to helping others lead healthier lives began in 2018 when she embarked on her own fitness journey while taking DC’s ECE program. She discovered Herbalife, a company whose products not only helped her lose post-pregnancy weight, but also ignited her passion for health and wellness.

“I realized that my journey and experience could help other people get healthy,” says Rochelle. “I was connecting with moms all over the world who were building their confidence and feeling good.”

Although her new passion to help women emerged halfway through the ECE program, Palmer continued her studies and graduated to set an example for her children. Her experience helping others with their health goals transformed her own life as it paved the way for her future education.

After four successful years with Herbalife, Rochelle felt a desire to expand her knowledge further. Despite feeling hesitant at first, she decided to pursue another diploma.

“Going back to school kind of felt like taking a step backwards, and that’s also when my postpartum depression started,” she explains. After enrolling in DC’s Fitness and Health Promotion program, she felt a sense of comfort and support during a challenging time.  “It seemed like a good option because I knew that I would learn a lot and be able to apply this knowledge once I started to feel better.”

During her time at DC, Rochelle’s entrepreneurial spirit has flourished. Her idea for her business, EmpowHer, had been on her mind since 2019 after being inspired by her clients’ requests for fitness training and group classes. So, she decided to take action and begin planning to make it a reality. Her idea for EmpowHer was validated and celebrated last month when Rochelle won first prize during a DC pitch competition, hosted by the college’s entrepreneurial resource hub, FastStart.

“My journey has literally led me to this moment and the FastStart program,” she says.

Rochelle’s goals for her business are ambitious yet rooted in her commitment to community and female empowerment. She envisions her business as a fusion of health and fitness, offering nutritious meal options alongside fun and inclusive fitness programs. A unique aspect of her vision is having on-site counseling services, providing women with a safe space to prioritize their mental and emotional well-being.

“I’d also like to have daycare in the building as mothers miss events all the time due to lack of support,” she says. “My long-term goal is to open multiple locations in different communities.”

Rochelle is planning to launch her business in summer 2025, after graduating.

Reflecting on her experience at DC so far, Rochelle encourages aspiring entrepreneurs and fitness enthusiasts to consider DC’s Fitness and Health Promotion program.

“I think anyone who has the desire to use fitness to help others should take this program,” she says. “Coming in, I thought it would be all about exercising, but it turns out this program digs deeper and teaches you the skills you need to run a health and fitness business, too. There are so many layers to this program, I think everyone could benefit from it.”

Are you ready to turn your passion for fitness into a rewarding career? DC’s Fitness and Health Promotion program might just be the perfect fit for you. From communication skills to wellness principles, you’ll learn what it takes to succeed in this popular industry.

Student entrepreneur focused on mental health

At Durham College (DC), Kinen Ocitti has everything he needs to turn his passion for mental health into a thriving business.

A student in the Data Analytics for Business Decision-Making program and Computer Programming graduate, he is building Kuwota, a journaling application to improve overall mental health and well-being. To do so, he has taken full advantage of DC’s FastStart program, which helps student entrepreneurs launch their business.

“Kuwota is a journaling application that promotes personal growth and well-being and offers direct access to licensed therapists for the individual’s self-discovery and self-improvement,” explained Ocitti. Once granted permission by the author, therapists will be able to read the user’s journal entries and provide feedback.

To help create an event that would promote Kuwota and the benefits of journaling, the FastStart office connected Ocitti with Teresa Avvampato, a professor in the Occupational Therapist Assistant and Physiotherapist Assistant program, and her students Alexandra Dougherty, Shun Naito, Jessica Reed and Mehrad Zaroorian. As second-year students, their experience running group therapy sessions was ideally suited to the challenge. Naito, who previously worked as an event planner in the hotel business and shares Ocitti’s passion for mental health, was particularly excited to help out.

“I think the mental health aspects of occupational therapy have been increasing, and I believe psychotherapy has been added to our job duties,” said Naito.

With the help of a $3,500 grant from Tomorrow’s Leaders Starting Out, the team organized an event at the FastStart office in January. A number of DC students were in attendance to learn about Kuwota and hear from two visiting therapists. The event was a big success with numerous students expressing their interest in the app, which Ocitti hopes to launch by September.

An occupational therapist and psychotherapist by trade, Avvampato was pleased to help introduce the Kuwota app to students.

“It certainly meets a strong need. Mental health and wellness are more top of mind for everyone and in particular the student population,” she said. “We’re seeing more and more awareness about the importance of balance and taking care of your mental health, and journaling is an exceptional way to do that.”

As work continues on Kuwota, he’s grateful for all the help he’s received from the DC community.

“When I approached FastStart, I came with a block of marble. I knew I wanted to do something with it, but I didn’t know what to do or how to do it. FastStart really helped me sculpt the edges.”

If you have an entrepreneurial spirit like Ocitti, DC is ready to support you.

FastStart is a free, extra-curricular program offered to all DC students, and it can help you make your business dreams a reality.

“We help student entrepreneurs develop and start their own businesses,” explained Sundar Manku, Manager, Entrepreneurship Services. “We’re an incubator, so we help bring their idea to the market and help raise those initial funds.”

Students who sign up for FastStart have access to an online course, industry specific programming as well as a variety of college and community workshops and events. They’re also paired with mentors uniquely suited to their particular business goals.

FastStart can also help you market your business, from social media strategy advice and support to logo design and beyond. 

Student entrepreneurs will also benefit from FastStart’s extensive connections in the business community, with a variety of networking events and business idea pitch contests to take part in.

FastStart is located in the 360insights Entrepreneurship Centre inside the Centre for Collaborative Education and is open year-round.