Transition students are working out just fine at YMCA

La Grange, IL

At 1 p.m. Tuesday, the Greater La Grange YMCA is hardly crowded.

A few people are working out when the van from Lyons Township High School pulls up with students ready for their workout — bringing with them a boost of energy for the gym between the lunchtime and evening peak hours.

For almost two years, students in the LTHS life transition program have been exercising twice a week at the YMCA.

It is not only a chance for the students to stay fit and healthy, LTHS instructor Joe Duffy said, but it is a chance to socialize.

The idea is that after graduating from the program, working out at the gym will be a habit the students will keep. “The students will be able to take advantage of things like the Y,” Duffy said.

Now, the YMCA is planning on expanding the program and making it a permanent fixture. With grant funding, officials hope to open Impact 4 Life to students in special education programs throughout the area.

“It’s something we’re really passionate about,” said Kim Lovejoy-Voss, director of member relations. “Because we do want to open it up, and we want to have more people.”

The grant — which officials are still working out among YMCA support groups — would pay for new equipment and extra staff hours, and it would cover some of the membership costs for the students.

And although the YMCA sponsors a Special Olympics team, the members don’t regularly work out there. They would like to change that, Lovejoy-Voss said.

The gym visits are one part of LTHS’ transition program, which works with students between the ages of 18 and 22. The students spend a lot of the time improving vocational skills, but there is a heavy focus on socializing too, Duffy said.

“The biggest thing is to help them find jobs in the community, but also to show them what to do for leisure when they’re not working,” Duffy said.

The students have visited libraries and restaurants, and they had a planned a Metra trip to a bowling alley last weekend.

“We are trying to expose the students to as many community resources as possible,” he said.

A trip to the gym last week started for most with a round of stretching followed by a cardio workout.

Meanwhile, a few of the guys headed straight for the weight room.

Morris Beck, 19, is trying his hardest to build mass on his tall, skinny frame, he said.

“I can’t go above 200,” he said, chuckling and shrugging his shoulders. “I check every day I come in here.”

The YMCA also provides job training. Giovanni Baeza, who just turned 21, brings an easygoing smile to his work at the front desk twice a week.

“In special ed, a lot of times the focus is on job training, while the physical health is abandoned and put on the back burner,” said Dan DeCarlo, a paraeducator in the LTHS program.

The gym visits make for a more well-rounded curriculum, he added: “It keeps them healthier and happier.”