In an effort to improve the health and wellness options available to persons with intellectual or other developmental disabilities, the St. Louis Center in Chelsea is offering a new program open to residents in Washtenaw County.
The program, titled "Fitness for Life," features one-hour bi-weekly classes focused on movement and coordination drills.
"Fitness for Life provides functional fitness training to increase the physical fitness level of people with disabilities, thereby increasing their capacity to perform normal daily activities more safely and independently," Caitlin Deis, fitness specialist for St. Louis Center said.
Dias, a 2001 graduate of Chelsea High School, leads classes every six weeks, offering programs that focus on bending, lifting, running, yoga, and basic exercises.
"We have all different classes based on students' abilities," Dias explained. "There are kids and adults with autism, Down syndrome, fetal alcohol syndrome, and other physical disabilities in the program. It's like exercise in disguise. They have a lot of fun, but they are also getting a workout."
The program is entering its second year at St. Louis Center, however this is the first year it is being offered to the public through grant funding from the Chelsea-Area Wellness Foundation (CWF) and the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan.
Matt Pegouskie, program and community resource manager for the CWF, said partnering with the St. Louis Center allows the CWF to reach out to a demographic in its "5 Healthy Towns" coalition that it is often overlooked.
"We've heard really great reviews about the program, and about Caitlin," Pegouskie said. "'Fitness for Life' meets our overall mission of getting everyone to move more, eat better, exercise, and connect with people in healthy ways."
Dias holds a bachelor's degree in psychology from Alma College, and is a certified group exercise instructor with a concentration in geriatric fitness.
"A lot of the exercise programs are geared toward seniors, but we take elements that can be applied to anyone," she said. "The challenge is keeping the students interested for an hour."
Dias said students range in age from 7 to 62, so programs are tailored to different age groups.
Ron Benton of Chelsea said he likes watching his son Lee, who is confined to a wheelchair, enjoy socializing with other students in the fitness program.
"He looks forward to coming every week," Benton said. "Some of the workouts are difficult for Lee, but Caitlin is very good about finding ways to include him."
Jeanne Brakhage of Dexter said the fitness program provides a critical service to her son Daniel, who enjoys exercising as often as he can.
"There's not a lot of programs for children with disabilities in our area, so he really enjoys coming to the St. Louis Center," she said.
Brakhege said she hopes similar programs will be offered at the Dexter Wellness Center when it opens in June.
Fitness for Life is available with beginner to intermediate level training on Monday and Wednesday nights at 6 p.m., and intermediate to advanced classes on Tuesday and Thursday nights at 5 p.m. The cost is $10 for pre-screening, which will be applied to the program fee if accepted, and the program fee is $48 per person.