One of the benefits of working for a small, private university is things seem to get accomplished faster – at least according to Laurie DiRosa, Ed.D., assistant professor of Exercise Science who started teaching at Immaculata in August 2016.
When DiRosa wanted to bring the GetFIT Program to Immaculata University, she said it was “One big yes,” from faculty and staff and by January 30, the fitness program that promotes active living in persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities, was up and running at IU with clients from a local organization. With no other similar program in the area, DiRosa knew that GetFIT@IU would be beneficial to everyone.
However, it was not a solo effort. Joining DiRosa in developing and implementing the program are five exercise science majors:
Brittany Robertson ’17 of Cape May Court House, NJ
Alyssa Malitsky ’17 of Cherry Hill, NJ
Haley Rishell ’18 of Bear, DE
Dominigue Colanero ’18 of Philadelphia, PA (19148)
Paul LoMonaco ’18 of Blairstown, NJ
The exercise science students are gaining so much experience by completing research studies to examine the effects of the fitness program on strength, flexibility, balance, cardiovascular health, and quality of life. In fact, both Malitsky and Robertson presented research at the State Capitol in Harrisburg, PA, on the effects of GetFit@IU on the health of the participants. The students are not only gaining industry experience, but also hands-on skills such as planning board meetings, establishing community and campus connections, recruiting student volunteers, marketing the program, and creating specialized exercise programs for individuals with disabilities. Recently Malitsky accepted the Immaculata Community Service Initiative leadership award on behalf of the GetFit@IU program.
“All the material that we are learning in Exercise and Sport Physiology, Biomechanics, and Personal Training classes….they’re doing it,” stated DiRosa. “They’re talking to people, trying to move their [client’s] bodies in the proper form, understanding an exercise prescription from start-to-finish, what a warm-up looks and feels like, what a full-body strength training workout looks like and feels like, flexibility, in addition to cardio and all of those things that we discuss in class.”
However, it is certainly a win-win for all involved. DiRosa surmises that most of the participants had never even set foot inside a gym prior to coming to Immaculata. Now, three days a week, 10 participants, a group of five males and a second group of five females, arrive at the Fitness Center and each are individually guided through a tailored 60-minute fitness program with a volunteer student-trainer.
Donna Emmi, the caregiver who accompanies the female clients, says that she sees the benefits of the program first-hand. “They are starting to watch what they eat and now tell me how much they weigh….’Donna, I lost two pounds,’” she relays from her conversations with “her girls.” Emmi also noticed that the fitness program has boosted their self-esteem and they are taking the initiative to work out on their own as well.
Upon hearing that the participants are motivated to continue to work out and watch their diet, DiRosa said she was ecstatic. “It’s exactly what we had hoped for.” She notes that often people with intellectual disabilities let fitness and nutrition fall to the bottom of the to-do list. Although, DiRosa stresses the importance of the social aspect as well. “Imagine, individuals without disabilities going into a gym…you walk in and say, ‘What the heck is this machine? What button do I push on this one?’ and then you have someone with social anxiety, which makes it that much harder to walk into a fitness center.”
“Most of the clients have never worked out before, so many of them are extremely apprehensive about using the equipment in the Fitness Center,” states Alyssa Malitsky, who works one-on-one with the participants. “The best part about working with them has definitely been seeing them open up to the trainers, forming bonds as well as independently asking to try new pieces of equipment.”
Malitsky, who will be pursuing a Master of Occupational Therapy at the University of the Sciences, states that the GetFIT Program opened her eyes to a love of working with individuals with special needs at any age. She also appreciates being one of the first IU students to implement the program, because it enabled her to realize that you need to be flexible and come up with new exercises on the spot.
Through the non-profit organization Family Resource Network of New Jersey, which founded the GetFIT Program about a decade ago, the “GetFIT at Home” program was introduced in the last three years. They hire certified personal trainers, many of whom have had GetFIT training at their college, to provide a personalized fitness program for individuals with special needs in the privacy of their home.
Junior Paul LoMonaco, who has been participating as a GetFIT@IU trainer, is interested in applying for a position with the GetFIT at Home program once he graduates from Immaculata and secures his personal trainer certification. It’s a direct route to a post-college job that is in high demand, because few people are trained to specifically work with individuals with disabilities. Graduates can expect to make around $25-30 per hour/session.
With the first session of the GetFIT@IU going extremely well, DiRosa hopes to create inter-disciplinary connections between various departments on campus such as Music Therapy, Special Education, Nutrition, and Campus Ministry.
At the core of the GetFIT@IU program is the creation of a sustainable service learning program that gives back to the community. There is no doubt that it has been a win-win for everyone!