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Volunteers of the North Suburban YMCA’s (NSYMCA) Exercise Connection program for young adults with special needs share the life lessons they’ve learned.

Throughout its commitment to provide services for the special needs community, the NSYMCA maintains a range of classes that provide fundamental physical and social opportunities, including the Exercise Connection program. In partnership with the Y’s special services, in this program, an Exercise Connection instructor leads a class for individuals with autism spectrum disorder, developmental delays and other special needs.

The highly visual, well-structured class encourages independence and enhances social skills while improving fitness levels, and is designed with the aid of volunteers who provide workouts specific to the individual’s needs. One of those volunteers is 17-year-old Zack Lofman.

“Being a volunteer has made me more patient with people with special accommodations,” said Lofman in a statement. “I think it’s a skill everyone needs to learn, to just be patient and wait.”

special needs volunteers

Exercise Connection volunteer Zack Lofman (left) helps Exercise Connection participant do sit-ups.

When Lofman reached his schools required 20 service hours, he asked if he could continue to volunteer. To date, Lofman, who feels everyone has an obligation to give back in some way, has volunteered over 140 hours of Exercise Connection and yoga classes. “It’s given me a new perspective on my life,” he said. “My problems seem small in comparison to a child or adult with special needs, or a parent of a person with special needs.”

Samantha Field, a freshman at Glenbrook North High School, is another volunteer who spends two hours a week in the Exercise Connection program and yoga classes. She plans to continue her volunteer work at the Y throughout high school.

“I’ve learned so much about helping people with autism through my volunteer work, including using breathing exercises to help class participants calm down,” said Field. “I’ve also learned there are many different types of autism and everyone is affected differently. And, if someone has autism, they can still be an amazing person.”

The Y’s Exercise Connection program is led by Tom March, a certified autism exercise coach. He has expanded the program’s Saturday morning class schedule, crediting its success to its dedicated high school age volunteers. “The longevity of volunteers can be short lived due to extra-curricular activities and academic needs,” said March. “To see young people so dedicated to their service to others is heartwarming and a positive reflection on our community. We’re so lucky to have these folks at the Y.”

Exercise Connection volunteer staff (kneeling from left): Jack Ciencus, Kai Miller, Alex Karpov; (Back row from left) Mitko Dimitrov, Sam Bianco, Zack Lofman, Samantha Field, Ethan Zernik.

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Brittany Howard

Brittany is the editor of Community Rec Magazine. Reach her at brittany@peakemedia.com.

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