Don't get the idea that Shondel Greenwood has never tried to do his exercises before, because he has.

"But I did more of them this time," said Greenwood, who lives in Pleasantville and adds that his favorite workout moves since he started getting serious have been pushups and jumping jacks.

Greenwood may have stuck with his exercise routine more since last fall because this time, he and other clients of The Arc of Atlantic County were part of the Get FIT program, which brought them together twice a week with students at Richard Stockton College of New Jersey.

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He lost about 12 pounds by working out and working on his diet - and he hopes at least 100 more, he said, ambitiously, at a Get FIT get-together late last month on Stockton's Galloway Township campus.

His friend, Brenda Phillips, also wants to improve dramatically on the five pounds she took off with Get FIT - that FIT stands for "Fitness Integration Training" - although she mainly credits some of her new friends from Stockton with helping her get in better shape.

And LaToya Smith, of Mays Landing, adds that she learned some new tricks with food to keep her weight down - while the walking, situps and other workouts she did with the students are getting her strength up.

The Family Resource Network, which describes its mission as serving "New Jersey residents living with epilepsy, autism, developmental disabilities and chronic illness," worked with The Arc and Stockton to help about 15 people with intellectual and developmental disabilities - or IDD - live up to Get FIT's name since last fall.

The Family Resource Network's Adeola Sonaike, who's also national director of Get FIT, says weight and health are major concerns in the IDD population. By her statistics, people with those disabilities are 57 percent more likely to be obese than the standard American population - which is itself getting so overweight that many people now call obesity a national epidemic.

Sonaike said her organization's goal is to use the exercise and weight-control program to cut the IDD obesity rate by about one third across the country.

People at both Stockton and The Arc were happy with how this team effort worked out over the past two semesters - but surprised at how important the social connections were that grew up over those eight or so months between The Arc clients and the college students.

"The staff is kind of like nagging parents," as Pat Jones, The Arc's chief operating officer, said through a smile. "But (the clients) were challenging themselves to work out with the students. ... I think it was like a personal trainer - kind of a combination of a group situation and a personal trainer."

And both sides hope to start Get FIT up again in September - although they're waiting to hear about how much grant funding will be available to keep it moving. But with Stockton's spring semester ending last week and most students going home for the next few months, Arc is looking for some volunteers to step up and keep its people motivated through this summer.

Arc officials say they apparently have found one volunteer who's a certified personal trainer -and who happens to live in the same Mays Landing condo complex as one of the Arc's group homes.

So that's a perfect fit, but Jones says they aren't looking only for experts or fitness pros. They'll be happy to find people who just want to help - and she emphasizes that the time, place and activities can be very flexible, depending on a volunteer's availability, location and talents. Arc staff could drive the clients to meet the volunteer at a place that works for everyone.

"It could be something as simple as a walk in the park," she said. "They could meet in different places - or it could be a walk on a boardwalk."

There was no outside exercise for the Get FIT crowd through our long winter and cold spring. "But now is the time to start some outside walking," Jones added.

(To volunteer or get more details, email or call Pat Jones at 609-485-0800, ext. 160.)

When a campus visitor asked Arc client Brenda Phillips what she liked about Get FIT, Phillips insisted on calling over a few Stockton students she calls her friends, including Amanda Ault, of Brigantine, and Emily Bilyk, of Beachwood, to credit them for helping her lose weight.

Ault, a graduate student in occupational therapy, was one of the organizers on the college end. She smiled as she said she made "lots of friends. We had a good time - there's never a dull moment in Get FIT."

Bilyk, an undergraduate biology major, was excited, too, to be in on the program - which also helped out some Stockton students with disabilities.

"I just heard about it and thought it sounded like a great idea," she said - adding that she turned out to be right. She's happy to recommend volunteering to anybody who enjoys helping people.

Mary Kientz, a Stockton professor and one of the coordinators, said the college assembled students from three disciplines for the program - physical therapy and nursing, along with her own speciality, occupational therapy.

They used about 30 undergraduate students to work, and work out, directly with the clients - which gave those students experience in dealing with a population that some may soon be seeing professionally. Eight graduate students supervised the undergrads and organized and administered the program, both valuable experiences for them.

Working together with people from a collection of other disciplines was also helpful - in part because that's how modern health-care operations are organized, she added.

But probably the key to the success was that "the relationships between the Stockton students and the Arc's clients were just amazing," as Kientz said later - adding that the students were even better than their teachers at getting the Arc gang going. "The clients were much more motivated by the students than by the faculty members."

Alysia Mastrangelo, a physical-therapy professor, is confident the benefits worked both ways. She was happily surprised to see some of her students hanging around at the final get-together even after their work was finished, and they had the OK to leave.

She and Kientz added that they see so many useful skills for their students in the partnership, they hope to turn working on Get FIT into a for-credit course - one in which the college kids will definitely earn some "sweat equity," as Kientz explained, smiling.

"The students are learning about different diseases and conditions," Mastrangelo added - and then there was the help they gave the Arc crew. "Some liked the exercises. But most of them liked the interaction with the students. ... Social and emotional well-being are also a piece of good health. It's about overall quality of life."

At the end of the evening, after most of the Arc clients and Stockton students had headed back to their homes, Ernie Simmers, a native of Dorothy, in Weymouth Township, was talking about the exercises he liked doing to work on his arm strength.

He said he liked doing the pushups, presses and other workout moves. But what really made him smile was talking about the card he just got for his 57th birthday - from one of his new Get FIT friends at Stockton.

Contact Martin DeAngelis:


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