Changing Hearts, Minds And Bodies With Fitness

Posted on October 29, 2021

By Susannah Gillespie, Wellness and Group Fitness Manager, York Jewish Community Center

For the past 7 years, I have been teaching group fitness classes, personal training and now work as a manager at the York Jewish Community Center (JCC) where our mission is to change the world – or at least York County – by bringing physical fitness and wellness into our neighbors’ lives.

I have had the unique opportunity of sharing expertise with families, teens, seniors, collegiate athletes and people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

My relationship with Penn-Mar began when Rita Arnett, then a Direct Support Professional (DSP) and Residential Supervisor at a Penn-Mar community home, first approached us about personal training for some of the people she supported.

In 2020, I completed a certification program designed for trainers, physicians and occupational therapists who work with people with disabilities to specialize in exercises, cueing, sensory awareness and condition-specific variations for many different special populations.

People with disabilities can often lead sedentary lives but Penn-Mar’s commitment to giving the people they support a life outside in the community has made it possible for a number of individuals to thrive in our Center where they feel safe, secure and welcomed.

Each individual comes with specific and personal goals: some to live happier and healthier lives, others to help ease some discomfort in their bodies or to help regain mobility after an injury or ailment. We talk to them about their goals and pivot right along with them as they evolve and change. By spending time listening to their concerns, we can achieve the best fitness outcomes for them.

Some of these clients are worried about the challenges of aging. They often lose their balance, live in homes with stairs, or have trouble getting out of a chair or bed. We work on those issues with specific exercises that provide strength and balance when needed.

One client likes to go for walks in the park but has trouble navigating uneven surfaces. I took her outside and had her navigate transitions from the grass to the concrete pavement to get her better accustomed to the different heights and surfaces.

During COVID, I began working on my Master’s degree in Leadership, emphasizing my personal research towards enhancing wellness in organizations. This provided a great opportunity to evaluate and plan for better outcomes for individuals at the JCC and our partner organizations like Penn-Mar. It also helped me create programming to enhance the physical and emotional wellbeing of the DSPs as I learned more about the demands of their profession.

My research has inspired me to design 6-8 week sessions for organizations like Penn-Mar, for both the DSPs and the people they support, to enable them to receive wellness support in their community homes or workplaces. By eliminating the commuting time (“time” being the Number One obstacle to exercising), we will be able to introduce more and more people to what can become a lifelong habit of fitness.

As a personal trainer, I care deeply about my clients and try to help them find the best way to love the way they feel and live. I strive to offer them choices: exercises they feel comfortable doing, a setting that helps them escape from the stresses of the day, and food options that replace higher calorie selections.

A healthy body greatly influences our mental health and wellbeing and our ability to make every day the best it can be. Physical fitness can give all of us a change in outlook and a way to find a “maybe” rather than a “no.”

Thank you Penn-Mar for the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of members of your community!