Exercise Leads to Inclusion


Astacia loves singing and dancing. So much so, she stopped in her tracks while walking the track at the Mary Free Bed YMCA and peered through the glass into a room with women dancing. “She looked in there and said ‘I can do that,’ and she even showed me,” says Wobit Teshome, a Specialized Mentor for Crossroads, one of MOKA’s Community Supports programs in Kent County. “She saw it and never looked back.”Astacia and another Crossroads participant, Nikki, are now regulars in the Wednesday Fitness for Life class. Even with 30 participants, the instructor finds ways to keep Astacia and Nikki motivated and moving. The class caters to older adults and combines dancing, cardio, and strength exercises.

“It’s fun,” Astacia says. “I have a good time.”

Crossroads helps integrate individuals with disabilities who have higher-level personal needs into the community. This goal results in two significant outcomes. On the one hand, it builds familiarity for the individual with the resources available to everyone in the community. A second, less obvious, outcome is that it helps build camaraderie with members of the public, resulting in a greater community understanding of disability and a change in attitudes. Inclusion often works one person at a time. Two Crossroads groups visit the YMCA on a weekly basis and participate in supervised activities. Some play basketball while others walk the track or swim. The particular choices are based on the personal goals and interests of each individual in the group. Wobit joins Astacia and Nikki in exercise class. “They get really into it,” Wobit says. “Everyone is very welcoming. They see Nikki and Astacia having a lot of fun.”

Astacia is always one to take the stairs and stays active. Sometimes she plays basketball and uses the exercise machines, but her favorite workout is the class. She says she feels better and has even lost weight. Astacia often stands up front with the instructor, Debbie, and does the moves alongside her. Nikki decided to give it a try and got hooked too. “I like to dance,” Nikki says. Nikki knows most every song. Debbie makes sure to play their favorites, including Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies” and Miley Cyrus’s “Party in the USA.” Debbie and other participants look for them every week and enjoy the energy they bring to class. “They brighten everyone’s day,” Debbie says. Wobit has noticed they always seem energized after class and it helps their focus. Outside of going to the YMCA, the group enjoys activities such as bowling, shopping, nature walks, picnics and visiting the park near Gerald R. Ford International Airport during the warmer months. “We try to be out in the community as much as possible,” Wobit says.