HEALTH Let His Spirit Move You: A Program That Helps the Developmentally Disabled Get Fit Personal trainer and disabilities support counselor Jared Ciner has done something rather remarkable. This 25-year-old Denver native developed a first of its kind: The SPIRIT Club—the acronym stands for Social Physical Interactive Respectful Inclusive Teamwork—is a pioneering program designed to break down barriers that keep individuals with disabilities isolated and physically inactive. Jared Ciner, founder of the SPIRIT Club.Individuals with special needs are 58 percent more likely to be obese than the general population, and have an increased likelihood of anxiety, depression, and social isolation. Ciner has created programs that are specifically designed to combat these tendencies by creating a welcoming, interactive, and educational environment where individuals exercise, socialize, and learn. The mission ofSPIRIT (based in Kensington, MD) is to create opportunities for those with developmental disabilities to learn to maintain and appreciate a healthy and active lifestyle, and to encourage independence and integration. In Good Spirit Drawing on his degree in Psychology from the University of Maryland, Ciner launched his endeavor in April of 2013. The eight-week program is designed to familiarize people who have Down syndrome, autism spectrum disorders, and other developmental disabilities with healthy behavior, exercise, and nutrition. SPIRIT Club also partners with the Jubilee Association of Maryland to provide scholarships for individuals in financial need. Ciner’s experience as a children’s swim instructor and Athletics Specialist volunteer in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, enabled him to understand the impact that structured physical programming can have, not only on a person’s physical health, but their emotional well-being and social functioning as well. He created the SPIRIT Club to tap into these important elements of independent living and cater towards populations that tend to be the most under-served. Customizing a Curriculum Recognizing that many of his clients are uncomfortable in typical fitness settings and can easily feel intimated, Ciner developed a curriculum just for them. Each class includes partner exercises and group activities that proceed at a pace that leaves plenty of extra time for answering questions and ends with a homework assignment that includes an exercise to practice and a nutrition tip to follow. It’s commendable for a young man to recognize a need and have the courage to execute his plan—and it was sparked by personal connections he had made. “The SPIRIT Club was inspired by the relationships that I have built with people that have special needs while working as a support counselor at the Jubilee Association of Maryland,” says Ciner. “There I discovered the immense need for this population to participate in socially interactive fitness programs that enable them to express themselves, meet new people, and improve their health.” His mission is very clear: “To provide opportunities for people with disabilities around the world to partake in programs like the SPIRIT Club, because I have seen first hand the incredible impact that it has on our clients’ lives.” It Takes a Village Ciner says he is grateful for the community and they have been extremely supportive and interested in what the SPIRIT Club provides. So far, over 75 people with disabilities have enrolled in its programs and dozens have donated their money and time towards helping clients get involved, he adds. “The level of interest and support from the community has been shocking, and I am so proud of the work that we are doing.” What has been most rewarding? “Witnessing the positive impact that we are having on people’s lives,” says Ciner. He has seen clients make serious lifestyle changes that include a focus on healthy behavior through both increased physical activity as well as improved nutritional habits. “Our members are constantly reminding us of their success by sharing the exercises that they have been practicing and the weight that they have lost,” he says. Seeing this reaction has helped Ciner stay focused—with his eyes on the prize: “My goal is to make sure that one day, people with disabilities around the world have access to programs like the SPIRIT Club.” CLICK HERE to read the article at its original source.