Be Well! and Thrive Program

Safe Structured Exercise Program Improves the Lives of Individuals with Disabilities

Be Well! & Thrive, a 2-year old program of Easter Seals New Jersey, is aimed at individuals with developmental disabilities and persons with special needs, and their families. The program’s goal is to effect long term positive lifestyle change with health, nutrition, and exercise education in a population where this is often neglected.

The Inclusive Exercise Program

Easter Seals New Jersey’s team of health and wellness professionals created Be Well! & Thrive, an ability appropriate, safe exercise program for individuals with developmental disabilities and special needs. Professional exercise instructors identify individuals facing obstacles related to their health like obesity or immobility and provide them with the educational tools to overcome them. After permission and medical clearance are obtained, pre-participation and post-participation assessments are performed to help consumers track their progress.

Post-program assessments demonstrated that many of the Be Well! & Thrive participants showed improved weight or maintained body weight, improved or maintained body fat percentage, and/or improved posture and balance. Side effects experienced included increased self-confidence, mobility and independence.

My Involvement With The Program

I was introduced to Laura O’Reilly, Director of health and Wellness for Easter Seals New Jersey and got involved teaching Pilates to Special Populations. She told me of a trial Sit to Stand class they were developing and asked if I could offer some Pilates exercises for Core Strength.

For the past year and a half, as a member of the Health and Wellness team, we have created the Be Well! & Thrive program of exercises for the IDD (Intellectually Diseased and Disabled) population. This population includes Adults with Autism, Down Syndrome, CP (Cerebral Palsy), and others who normally would not have access to gyms and health clubs.

As Master Exercise Instructor, I am responsible for training instructors as the program expands throughout the Easter Seals NJ Centers. We will be offering membership to outside Gyms and Facilities and training their staff to better serve this population. Programs for Frail Seniors, Returning Veterans, and other specific populations are in the planning stages, as we look to expand our class training services.

Members of our classes (Easter Seal Consumers) who have participated for over a year had incredible gains. One non-verbal male who is Morbidly Obese has now gained mastery of sit to stand skills without the aid of an assistant. He now can stand, go to bathroom, shower, and move where he wants to independently. He can also pedal an ergonometer, which previously was impossible for him. He gains confidence and better motor control skills with every class.