James Madison University

Grant Funds Physical Education Mentoring Project

By: Jordan Pye
Posted: November 29, 2010

PHOTO: JMU Students mentor children

This fall, physical education and exercise science students played a huge role in initiating the Overcoming Barriers project, a new grant-funded mentoring program that partners students with community members who have disabilities.

Over the summer the I Can Do It You Can Do It program awarded kinesiology professor Dr. Thomas Moran a $15,000 grant to conduct a physical activity and nutrition mentoring program for people of all ages with disabilities. JMU's program, called the Overcoming Barrier's project, will offer three waves of eight-week sessions that enroll at least 60 local participants from Harrisonburg, Staunton, Waynesboro and Rockingham and Augusta Counties. The first wave ended on Nov. 8.

"The focus of our Overcoming Barriers project is to give individuals with disabilities the tools - skills, knowledge, and appropriate attitudes - to participate successfully in the community and live healthy, active lifestyles," project director Moran said.

PHOTO: JMU students mentor children

In the program, participants are assigned a trained adult mentor who works with them five days a week in half-hour sessions. The pairs spend three days a week completing personalized home exercise programs, including free local activities identified by mentors, or services the mentee already receives. One day each week they participate in specialized programs like dance, aquatics or golf, some of which are led and organized by program coordinators at JMU. For the fifth day the participant joins an existing physical activity program based in their community, often with a "helping hand" mentor who assists them with sign-up and can provide instructional support.

In addition, OBP will host informational sessions for families, including a monthly "family fun" night where participants and relatives are invited to learn about nutrition, healthy meal options and physical activities they can do at home. Participants also help the project conduct research by taking pre- and post-fitness assessments of flexibility, strength measurement and endurance, and completing surveys of their health behaviors, habits and attitudes before and after the eight-week session.

Greg Tidd, a special education graduate student, serves as the director of programming to oversee the planned activities within the OBP and mentor/mentee partnerships. The mentor's role is not only important to their participant, but gives both a chance to enjoy sports and group physical activities.

"I think it's a really great opportunity for JMU students to get involved and work with people with disabilities," Tidd said. "[In this program] JMU students get everyone laughing and it's fun and it exposes everyone to opportunities they rarely have."

Kathryn Beitel, an interdisciplinary liberal studies major, first became interested in volunteering with OBP last spring when she took Moran's course, Special Studies in Kinesiology and Recreation. Although unrelated to her major, the class gave her an opportunity for community involvement, where she gave swimming lessons to a four-year-old named Kevin. Now his mentor, Beitel continues his swim lessons once a week at the Virginia Mennonite Retirement Community Center.

"We work on being comfortable in the water, strokes, going under the water, floating, kicking, pulling, and jumping in from the side," Beitel said. "Because I'm a mentor, not a volunteer, I go every week and work with the same child. This really intensifies the bond between Kevin and me and builds a strong foundation of trust."

Beitel believes JMU students also benefit greatly from involvement in the program.

PHOTO: JMU students mentor children

"For me, knowing that I have someone who is depending on me makes me work so much harder in every aspect of my life," Beitel said. "Swimming with Kevin brightens my day and I learn from him just as much as he learns from me. Meeting Kevin [and his family] has allowed me to have a larger network in Harrisonburg, rather than just inside of JMU."

Senior PHETE student Lauren Moniuszko became involved in OBP by volunteering with "Just for Kicks," a sports skills program for disabled individuals that Moran conducted last spring, which revealed her passion for helping children reach new goals physically, mentally and socially. As the Assistant Director of Programming for the Overcoming Barriers Program, Moniuszko directs outreach programs, and coordinates a weekly program at the Waynesboro YMCA where children and adults with a wide range of disabilities come together with their mentors to learn fitness activities and sport-specific locomotors skills for soccer, basketball, football and others. Stations incorporate equipment modifications like larger bats or baseballs, dice, and beanbags, and students stay on task with a reward system of pennies, glow sticks and stickers on a behavior chart. By using a tactile schedule with taped-on pictures of their activities, students can create concrete beginnings and ends for the sessions by removing completed activity pictures and pointing out remaining ones.

Moniuszko also mentored a 10-year-old with spastic quadriplegia, the most severe form of cerebral palsy.

"My mentee uses a wheelchair, has limited head, neck, arm movement, uses a computer device to communicate and cannot be attached to her chair during physical activity," Moniuszko said. "For her, my goals were to create activities to improve gripping skills, arm strength, and core strength. One activity I used was tying a string to her arm with the other end attached to a scooter. She would have to pull various objects, including myself, about three feet toward her by raising her arm as high as she could."

Moniuszko said the program hopes to continue in future years and is in the process of setting up clinics in areas including Charlottesville and Northern Virginia, in an effort to get more individuals with disabilities out of their homes into social settings and to teach others how to create environments that foster their success.

"Overcoming Barriers helps the community to broaden their knowledge base about individuals with disabilities, provides ways to include them in extracurricular activities in the community and helps to teach people within the community more successful ways to work with these individuals," Moniuszko said.