In a presentation to Bloomington (Ill.) community leaders Tuesday, the Partnership for Health Pilot Program asked for $75,000 in donations to expand an innovative new health and fitness program for people with developmental and intellectual disabilities.

According to Laura Beavers, a behavioral health division manager at the County Health Department, people with developmental and intellectual disabilities are three times more likely to suffer from heart disease, stroke, diabetes and cancer, and have a shorter life expectancy by 25 years.

The Partnership for Health Pilot Program began April 1 as a shared endeavor between the McLean County Health Department, Marcfirst, Advocate BroMenn Health & Fitness Center, Advocate BroMenn Charitable Foundation and the 377 board as a means of mitigating those risks.

The pilot program involves 25 eligible Marcfirst clients and 16 support workers. So far, the program has been an overwhelming success, with a 60 percent decrease in participants’ blood pressure, a 50 percent decrease in heart rate and cholesterol, and a marked decline in ER visits.

Vern McGinnis of the 377 board told The Pantagraph that participants are also seeing improvements in endurance, mobility, social-connectedness and mental health.

"Family members have told us that their sons and daughters (in the program) are more engaged, more communicative and more alert," said Marcfirst CEO Laura Furlong.

Neysa Danilson, a 46-year-old participant with cerebral palsy, has made it her goal to walk without the aid of crutches. Already, she says she feels steadier on her feet.

Fitness services supervisor Cody Haenitsch added, "She is able to do five squats without any assistance ... and she walks across the gym with minimal support. That's a big step toward her goal to walk independently."

Said Beavers, "To see this within seven months is unbelievable.”

Courtney Cameron is Editorial Assistant of Athletic Business.