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At Home at Spring Hill REC

Getting fit, making friends and volunteering time are make up life at local center.

Belonging, fitness, community. Any attempt to boil down the essence of Spring Hill RECenter to a single word is inadequate. Volunteer Director Shawna Levins sees "a little place set aside, for people to relax, work out, regain a sense of sanity."

Her description encompasses the many activities occurring daily at the center, and the volunteers and staff who make them possible. As summer camps end, autumn will usher in swimming, dancing, arts and crafts, and more for children. Jade Garrett, volunteer for over 20 programs, said "In the fall we're having one for kids called 'Slime Time.' It's a great name, I think they'll love it.

"For kids, it's amazing here. There's basketball, soccer, t-ball, which I taught," she said. The friend who introduced Garrett to volunteering at Spring Hill knew that she would coach t-ball well. After all, she had been on the Junior Olympic team for softball.

For members of all ages, Spring Hill's Adapted Aquatics programs has been thriving since Bryna Helfer started teaching in 1992. "The program is for people with physical disabilities, brain injury, multiple sclerosis, you name it," Helfer said. "The programs are individualized to include strength, endurance, flexibility, range of motion. We want to increase an individual's comfort level in the water and swim ablity."

The one-to-one volunteer to participant ratio is vital to Adapted Aquatics' continuing success. Volunteers come to Adapted Aquatics for a number of reasons, but a common thread is staying.

Nathan Howe comes to keep in touch with the people at Spring Hill. "I used to work as a lifeguard here."

Rang Singh, who takes time from a hectic school schedule to swim on Sundays, said, "It's fun to help out in the community, it doesn't take much time."

Pool maintenance volunteers contribute in a different way. Chris Falls said "Volunteering is important for a lot of reasons. I take out the tubes [floating aids] and chairs."

ASIDE FROM THE VOLUNTEERS, program participants and families cannot praise it enough. "I've been coming here for four years. I see the same people, there's great camaraderie," Tom Valluzzi said.

Rita Durbin sits poolside with Bess Rish while their husbands swim. "I know the program helps our husbands walk better. It's great that the volunteers come out to get in the water because I tried it with my husband and he wouldn't do it with me telling him what to do," Durbin said. Both women would recommend the program to any stroke victims to improve mobility.

Jacqueline Weaver sees her son Bruce's back pain lessened and walking improved. "We should have done it earlier. The program and the volunteers are a blessing."

For those less inclined toward the water, Spring Hill members have the fitness room, group classes, and racquetball court at their disposal. Fitness Director John Bartok explained the advantages of signing up for membership at Spring Hill's fitness center as opposed to a private gym or health club. "A private gym would tend to be more intimidating, lock you in for a longer commitment. Here we have less expensive, monthly memberships and a more accessible staff."

Accessibility is a point of key importance for Spring Hill fitness. Weight Training for Teens, which Bartok cites as a popular class, brings teenagers ages 12 to 15 into the fitness center to gain certification to use machines without an accompanying adult. The teen fitness program is part of a countywide effort to combat teen inactivity Bartok said. With Spring Hill, younger teens have an indoor exercise option for inclement weather and Code Red days. The FitLinxx system serves as an electronic personal trainer for Spring Hill members. FitLinxx users receive a card that links with a computerized system that tracks individual exercise machine settings and workouts.

The electronic system does not come at the expense of a personal trainer, as the Spring Hill fitness staff meets with FitLinxx participants to discuss training concerns and plans. Bartok explained, "We have members that come out of INOVA Cardiac Care after a heart attack to continue rehabilitation with FitLinxx. They can take computer printouts from the system back to their doctors to show their progress."

IN GROUP CLASSES, "Any 'alternative' fitness program such as yoga or Pilates attracts a big crowd," Bartok said. "It's funny to see the same fitness instructor lead Tai Chi class, then a Cardio-Kickboxing class." The shift from a meditative to a combative mood makes it hard for Bartok to believe he's watching the same person.

Connecting fitness on the land and water, Aquatics Director Joyce Quay participates in a more unusual offering at Spring Hill, hula class. The Hawaiian dance troupe practices for an hour and a half on Sunday afternoons. Hula enthusiast Quay says "We have big engagements. We performed in Maryland last Saturday at a Hurricane Katrina benefit and we've been invited to perform at the National Museum of Women in the Arts on Oct. 1."

But what drew her to hula class in the first place? "I wanted an alternative type of exercise program, and I was surprised to find I knew the group leader. Our husbands used to work together."

Volunteers help keep the RECenter running smoothly, especially since Levins began directing the program last April. Levins revitalized the program that had functioned with an interim leader for over a year. "The staff has found great ways to incorporate the volunteers into the areas of the RECenter in a helpful way," she said. "It's so beautiful to see these extremely articulate volunteers meshing with Spring Hill's members, learning across different cultures and experiences."

In July, Spring Hill's volunteers devoted more than 1300 hours to the relatively small center, enough to surpass totals at larger RECenters.

Spring Hill's staff has big plans for improvements and expansion. For the fall, murals will make a colorful addition to the fitness room and pool walls. A water volleyball tournament will raise money for the aquatics program.

As for volunteering, Levins wants to implement a program for children and their families. She foresees "kids, probably ages 5 to 13, coming out with parents to do landscaping, beautification for example, coming out once a month and learning values of community and stewardship."