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Springfield JCC Receives Grant for Wellness Project

SPRINGFIELD — The Springfield JCC Kehillah Special Needs Department’s Fitness Buddies Program is the recipient of a $10,000 grant from Ronald McDonald House Charities of Connecticut & Western Mass. for a wellness project that will significantly improve quality of life for young people with special needs.

Recognizing the need in the Greater Springfield area for a fitness center with adapted equipment for teens with special needs, the JCC established a Fitness Buddies program with seed money from the Doug Flutie Foundation in 2013. As the popularity of the program increased, additional specialized equipment was needed to accommodate individuals with Down syndrome, Williams syndrome, and autism-spectrum disorders.

Ronald McDonald House Charities stepped in to underwrite the cost of two Expresso S3Y youth bikes, which are safer than a conventional treadmill or elliptical machine. This type of bike is also being used in a pilot program with Harvard School of Public Health. Adding modified equipment puts special-needs individuals on a par with their friends and gives them access to aerobic and fitness equipment that otherwise would be excluded from their workout.

“Innovations such as these accessible bikes for teens and young adults with special needs opens up yet another opportunity for profound self-development — in this case, exercising in a typical fitness center,” said Stocky Clark, executive director of Ronald McDonald House Charities of Connecticut & Western Mass. “RMHC is honored to partner with the JCC to bring this innovation to individuals with a range of special needs participating in the Kehillah Special Needs Department of the JCC.”

Increased social interaction between the special-needs community and general members helps create healthy relationships and empowers individuals with special needs. Best Buddies matches teens and young adults who have social challenges with teens and adults in the community. Together, they work out at the Springfield JCC, and participants make new friends while learning healthy habits.

Research shows that exercise yields a range of physical and mental-health benefits for children. The Springfield JCC serves the Greater Springfield and Northern Conn. communities, offering hundreds of programs for all ages with a strong commitment to individuals with special needs.

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