Ditch the Workout and Join the Party

by Polly Cheeseman

One of the most rewarding parts about working with the adults at Keshet is watching them just be adults. Yes, it’s wonderful to see them accomplish the big feats and share in the success stories, but it is the simple moments that really make me smile. I love seeing them interact with friends, laugh and just have fun. When they have authentic and meaningful experiences, they are able to feel that sense of belonging all of us crave.

When I started my full-time job at Keshet, I noticed how much programming we were doing in-house for adults, and it didn’t quite make sense to me. I’m an adult, and I like to go out and do fun things, whether that’s going out to dinner with friends or to a workout class, and the adults at Keshet were expressing the desire to do the exact same thing. I saw this opportunity and wanted to run with it. Let’s get the adults out and about!

Finding a community that would welcome us with open arms was something I anticipated to be a challenge. I spent a lot of time researching what spaces would be the right fit, while also being something they’d enjoy. I spoke with Beth Jacobson, Group Fitness Supervisor at the Glenview Park District, who was extremely excited about the opportunity for our adults to join one of their group fitness classes. After going to observe the classes and discussing potential options, we were both in agreement that there couldn’t be a better fit…Zumba here we come!

Unfortunately, the park district did not get enough people to sign up for the class, but they still offered to run it for Keshet in hopes that it would grow over the coming months. I’ll admit that this was disappointing at first, as I was ready to go full steam ahead on this. However, that feeling immediately went away as soon as I met Regina, the Zumba instructor for the class. Regina has been nothing short of amazing and has strived to give our adults a positive experience each week. She knew every person by name and would be concerned when they were absent. She took song requests and modified the movements for those who needed it. It was so wonderful to see her grow to love the adults throughout the course of the class and be supportive of everyone’s differences. Her colleagues even let me know that this was by far her favorite class; they could see her light up just talking about it.

I’m sure it’s not a shock that the Keshet participants in the class loved it just as much as Regina. Each of them enjoyed coming to class to have a good time, be with their friends and get a good sweat in. “I liked the Zumba class because it was fun! I liked dancing with my friends. The teacher was good and helped us workout,” Doug, one of the class members, said, and hearing that was really all I could ask for.

About halfway through, a community member named Mary was walking by the class and asked me what we were doing. I explained to her that this was a Zumba class for adults with disabilities, but anyone was welcome. She seemed genuinely interested and asked if she could join us that day. Immediately, she formed connections with the adults and knew each of them by name after the first class. Suddenly, she became a regular class member week after week and just like Regina, was invested in each of the participants. It was so amazing to see a total outsider like Mary get a glimpse into who we are and what we do, and feel part of that. She was able to see first-hand that having a disability is not something to be seen as a setback, and when given the same opportunities as everyone else, they will thrive…and have so much fun while doing it!

Although this experience wasn’t exactly what I initially expected, I feel really excited about what we did accomplish and am hopeful for what’s to come. Regina and Beth have already expressed an interest in bringing back the class next year and running it year-round, and hope to bring in more community members like Mary. This class is proof that inclusion and belonging are needed no matter your age, ability or interests, and can be accomplished in the most unexpected of ways. I can’t wait to see all the amazing friendships, opportunities and memories that will be made through these experiences, and will be sure to give them the floor to just be adults.

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