Ridge Area Arc Health Matters Program

Consumers exercise as a part of The HealthMatters Program at the Adult Day Training Center in Avon Park.

AVON PARK — Ridge Area Arc has entered into a partnership with the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), an internationally recognized center for the interdisciplinary study of disability. The HealthMatters Program team at the Department of Disability and Human Development, UIC will provide frontline staff strategies and material to support healthy options and choices among people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Virtual Coach: HealthMatters Program is made possible through a highly sought-after 12 month grant from the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) Center for Clinical and Translational Science’s Pilot Translational and Clinical Program.

UIC conducts scholarships and community-engaged services across the spectrum of disability, including advocacy, culture, education, health promotion, history, policy and technology.

One of 53 grant recipients and the only agency in Florida, Ridge Area Arc strives to ensure that its consumers lead healthy and happy lives. And during these uncertain times, physical health and safety is paramount.

“Many people believe that our group homes are like assisted living facilities but this is not entirely true. While our group homes are staffed around the clock, our residents make their own choices as to how they want to live so it behooves us to give them all of the information they need to make healthy food and nutrition choices,” said Kathleen Border, CEO. “Our ultimate goal is to keep our guys happy and healthy for as long as possible so that they can stay independent. Nursing homes for seniors with intellectual and developmental disabilities do not tend to be the best option.”

Ridge Area Arc was chosen as a grant recipient based on several criteria. The HealthMatters Program is predicated on a partner agency’s focus on the health of people with disabilities but more specifically the desire to help individuals with disabilities make choices and become advocates in their own good health. The grant requires that partner agencies, like Ridge Area Arc, have a long standing history of quality programs and a staff dedicated to approaching problems in a creative and cutting edge way.

This grant goes hand-in-hand with The United Way of Central Florida’s funding in this health initiative and will provide the agency with a program that includes online health education lessons and physical activity videos. The Virtual Coach: HealthMatters Program is directed by Jasmina Sisirak, PhD, MPH and Beth Marks, PhD, RN, FAAN and serves to improve health behaviors and the health status of people with IDD. The evidence-based HealthMatters Program was specifically designed to foster responsible, positive attitudes toward healthy behaviors for people with developmental disabilities.