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Witness Testimony of Tina Acosta, MS, TR, Director, Adult Day Services and Adaptive Sports and Recreation, Turnstone Center for Children and Adults with Disabilities, Ft. Wayne, IN, and Secretary, Indiana Association of Adult Day Services

Executive Summary

Physical fitness activities are important to all people, but even more so for people with disabilities. A person who is physically fit protects his or her physical and mental health and enjoys a greater quality of life. In northeast Indiana, more than 150,000 persons over the age of 5 are living with a disability. Veterans with disabilities account for approximately 5 percent of this figure. Unfortunately, people with disabilities have few opportunities to participate in fitness related activities.  There are a plethora of opportunities in the region for persons without disabilities to play sports, build strength and engage in leisure activities, but for people with disabilities, these opportunities are inaccessible or simply unavailable.

In 1995, Turnstone addressed this lack of sports, recreation and wellness activities by developing the region’s only adaptive sports program. In 16 years, Turnstone’s program has grown to become a Paralympic Sport Club which today serves over 500 people with physical disabilities. But hundreds more, including our veterans and members of the armed forces, could be served if programs were available.

Programs require funding. The funds provided through the Olympic Opportunity Fund are vital to the success of agencies who dedicate themselves to advancing and empowering people with disabilities. The receipt of the Olympic Opportunity Fund will provide Turnstone with the opportunity to bring the Healthy Minds Healthy Bodies program to northeast Indiana. The program will address the exploding, and unmet, demand for recreation, sports, and wellness opportunities for northeast Indiana veterans and members of the armed forces. Through this program health and wellness fitness memberships will be provided to veterans and members of the armed forces with physical disabilities. An introduction to Paralympic sports, as well as inclusive family programming, will be offered to our servicemen and women who participate in the Healthy Minds Healthy Bodies program. 

Turnstone will serve 25 veterans through the Healthy Minds Healthy Bodies program in the coming 2011-12 program year. While the VA and Turnstone sought to work together in the past, there was not an avenue to bridge the relationship. The Healthy Minds Healthy Bodies program creates this bridge. As a result of this program, which would not have been possible without the support of the Olympic Opportunity Fund, Turnstone and the VA will have the opportunity to work together. Through our joint efforts linked by the Healthy Minds Healthy Bodies program, veterans with physical disabilities living in northeast Indiana will have access to vital health and wellness programs as well as Paralympic sports. Through the Healthy Minds Healthy Bodies program, our veterans will reclaim their dignity and independence.

Founded in 1943, Turnstone is a not-for-profit health and human services agency with an established history of serving children and adults with disabilities living in northeast Indiana. Turnstone’s mission is to provide therapeutic, educational, wellness and recreational programs to empower people with disabilities living in northeast Indiana. In 2009, Turnstone became a designated Paralympic Sport Club.

Current Programs

In 2011, over 2,200 children and adults with disabilities benefit from Turnstone’s unique programs and services. Turnstone offers the only wheelchair accessible health and wellness center in Indiana, the only competitive sports and recreation program in northeast Indiana and northwest Ohio, and it is the only organization in the region that provides speech, physical, occupational and aquatic therapy services for children and adults on a sliding fee scale. Other programs and services provided by the agency include a warm water therapeutic pool, early intervention preschool and childcare services, case management, residential ramp building, equipment loan and an adult day services program.

2012 and Beyond

Turnstone’s Madge Rothschild Pediatric Therapy Wing will be completed in 2012. The addition of the wing will allow Turnstone to serve the 50 children on the waiting list to receive pediatric therapy services. An additional 100 children in need of therapy services living in northeast Indiana will also benefit from this expansion. In 2012, more than 600 children with disabilities will receive speech, physical, occupational and aquatic therapy on a sliding fee scale at Turnstone.

Turnstone will continue to address the exploding, and unmet, demand for therapy, recreation, sports and wellness opportunities for people with disabilities in the coming years. The agency will soon embark on the early stages of a silent $8 million capital campaign, which is scheduled for completion in 2014. Turnstone will become the Midwest’s stage for innovation in the development of therapeutic and wellness programs, including Paralympic sports, for people with physical disabilities. The 2014 Turnstone will feature: an accessible fitness center, warm water, zero depth therapy pool, as well as a cool water pool and specialized fitness, recreation, aquatics and wheelchair sports programs.

Paralympic Sports

Since becoming a Paralympic Sport Club, Turnstone has introduced new competitive and leisure sports to children and adults with physical disabilities living in northeast Indiana. This designation has also increased the agency’s access to resources and experts in the field of Paralympic sports, thereby providing the agency with the ability to build its existing sport programs.  Programs which were in place in 2009, but that have been enhanced thanks to becoming a PSC include:  basketball, tennis, sled hockey, cycling and fencing. Since 2009, Turnstone has established a boccia team and held several introductory Paralympic sport clinics, including table tennis, archery, softball, curling, fencing, rugby, kayaking and sit volleyball. 

Olympic Opportunity Fund

As a Paralympic Sport Club, Turnstone has also been afforded a vital link to new funding sources, including the Olympic Opportunity Grant. In 2011, Turnstone applied and received an Olympic Opportunity Grant to replicate the Healthy Minds Healthy Bodies program in northeast Indiana. This program, which was piloted in the Chicago region, will provide veterans with physical disabilities and post-traumatic stress disorder with access to Turnstone’s accessible health and wellness center and an introduction to Paralympic sports.

Healthy Minds Healthy Bodies Program

Turnstone’s development of the Healthy Minds Healthy Bodies program will create new possibilities for veterans and members of the armed forces living with physical disabilities. Turnstone could not have brought the program to its community without the support provided through the Olympic Opportunity Fund. These dollars are vital to the development of the program and will have a lasting impact on our veterans. The veterans of northeast Indiana need the Healthy Minds Healthy Bodies program. Veterans like Tim, are the reason the program is so needed.   

In early 2011, Tim was featured in the local paper for a project—“Operation Thank You”— he created as a student of Indiana Purdue University of Fort Wayne. Through Operation Thank You, Tim gathered and delivered thank you cards to veterans in the hospital.

Tim, age 25, uses a wheelchair as a result of an injury obtained while in the military. He had heard about Turnstone, but never investigated what the agency offered. Tim toured the agency, learned that it offered wheelchair basketball, and immediately an interest was sparked.

Then he saw the fitness center. Since May, Leonard has been working out at Turnstone. At Turnstone he doesn’t have to get out of his chair to work out; he can roll up and lift independently.  His focus—weightlifting, and the results are in. He has lost more than 60 pounds of fat; but, gained 30 pounds of muscle. His waistline has shrunk 7”, while his chest has increased 10”. Tim is a machine.

In August, Tim, who was joined by Turnstone’s Director of Adult Services, Tina Acosta and the agency’s Sports and Recreation Coordinator, Kevin Hughes, participated in the Valor Midwest Games in Chicago. He took part in the weightlifting competition and took gold. He also competed in the shot put—he took silver.

This September, Tim rolled 4 miles in Fort Wayne’s Fort-4-Fitness Half Marathon 10K and 4 Mile event. This event drew over 9,500 athletes. Tim completed the 4 mile race in 50 minutes. Tim wheeled the race with a 14-year old boy with cerebral palsy. The young man completed the race 13 seconds faster than Tim. Both Tim and the boy were winners that day. Tim says, “Where there is a way, there is how”. He’s found the way and the how at Turnstone.

Tim’s story is one of success. More successes are possible. More possibilities can be created. The Olympic Opportunity Fund creates possibilities.

Charlie Huebner, USOC’s Chief of Paralympics stated in USA Today, “The most important thing that we can do, and our partners do, is make sure there’s programming available for when young men and women returning to their community because that’s where the rehab process really takes hold.”  Col. Barbara Springer, former chief of physical therapy at Walter Reed, witnessed the impact of recreational programs on wounded warriors.

Colonel Springer states “Once they see they can do that activity, then they have the confidence, the self-esteem, to try anything”. Huebner and Springer’s words reinforce the need for Turnstone’s Healthy Minds Healthy Bodies program, as well as the Olympic Opportunity Fund.

According to the VA of Northern Indiana, there are 7,000 veterans from OIF, OEF and OND living in northeast Indiana, while the local DAV chapters in the region have a cumulative membership of over 2,500. Nationally the VA reports, 77 percent of Veterans are overweight or obese, and weight-related disorders, including diabetes, are common.

Turnstone has the resources and expertise needed to help our Veterans and members of the Armed Forces get fit, become active in sports and recreation and regain their independence. Turnstone’s Healthy Minds Healthy Bodies program will expand Paralympic sports and physical activity programs for Veterans and members of the Armed Forces with physical disabilities and their caregivers.

The Healthy Minds Healthy Bodies program will include four components:

  • 6-month membership to Turnstone’s accessible fitness center and warm water pool as well as 5 hours of personal training.
  • Access to Paralympic sports, including wheelchair tennis, boccia, sled hockey, wheelchair basketball, rugby and snow skiing and more.
  • A monthly family social event, focusing on health and the introduction of Paralympic sports.
  • Establishment of a Veterans Services Advisory Committee to ensure program sustainability.

It is projected that 25 Veterans or members of the Armed Forces with physical disabilities (including amputations, spinal cord injuries, visual impairment, post-traumatic stress disorder, cerebral palsy, stroke and traumatic brain injury, age 21 to 55, in addition to 20-25 caregivers of similar age), will participate in the Healthy Minds Healthy Bodies program.

Through the Healthy Minds Healthy Bodies program Turnstone is investing in the long term health, wellness and quality of life of veterans living with disabilities in northeast Indiana, a group whose needs are underserved and unfilled.  Our veterans are competent, self- determined individuals who can, and should, live with the independence and dignity they had become disability entered their life.

Veterans deserve to live the lives of their dreams with full inclusion in all areas of life: educational, social, employment, and recreational. Without the availability of the Healthy Minds Healthy Bodies program, northeast Indiana will lack the specialized programs and facilities that enable full participation of people with a myriad of disabilities. The infusion of support provided by the Olympic Opportunity Fund to Turnstone changes that.

Conclusion

“Champions aren't made in the gyms. Champions are made from something they have deep inside them—a desire, a dream, a vision.”  –Muhammad Ali

The participants of the Healthy Minds Healthy Bodies program are champions. They are our veterans who had a desire and dream to protect our nation—to protect our freedom and our independence. While championing their beliefs, these veterans lost their independence. Their life was changed in an instant, and they are now living with a disability. They should be thriving; their disability should not define their life or their livelihood.

The Healthy Minds Healthy Bodies program, which is made possible thanks to the Olympic Opportunity Fund, redefines veterans living with disabilities. It offers hope; it changes lives. Through this program, veterans with physical disabilities will rebuild their physical strength, mental wellness and confidence. They will regain their dignity. They will rediscover their joy.


Past Federal Support

Turnstone received a 3-year grant from the US Department of Education in the amount of $130,000 in 2009. This grant funded the ICAAN (Inclusive Community Athletics and Activities Now) Program, which introduced various inclusive sports and recreation programs for persons with physical disabilities and their peers.

Turnstone received the Carol M. White Award through the US Department of Education in the amount of $120,000 in 2002. This grant funded Turnstone’s Fitness for EveryBODY program and was instrumental in the agency’s development of its accessible health and wellness fitness program and center.