McLean County program offers fitness training for Marcfirst clients

Advocate BroMenn Health and Fitness Center
Tim Littell of Bloomington and Marcfirst Director of Support Amanda Henderson ride stationary bikes at the Advocate BroMenn Health and Fitness Center in Bloomington. (Photo by Eric Stock/WJBC)

By Eric Stock

BLOOMINGTON – People with disabilities die 25 years younger on average than the rest of the population.

A new program in McLean County aims to help those with physical and intellectual disabilities live longer, fuller lives.

Vern McGinnis serves on the McLean County Board for Care and Treatment of Persons with a Developmental Disability. The board has given $40,000 for a program to clients of Marcfirst in Normal get free health assessments and fitness training.

“There was a real gap there and we said ‘Here’s something we can do which enhances their quality of life, which enhances their health and well being’ and some of the beautiful benefits that come with
is self-esteem and building social relationships,” McGinnis said. “We are seeing that already.”

Laura Beavers, health department behavioral health division manager, said many Marcfirst clients lack the money or mobility to get the training they need.

“Years and years and years ago what we did to take care of people with disabilities is we may have just taken care of them as a family, taking care of them privately and said this is just the way it is,” Beavers said. “That’s not acceptable.”

Beavers added the disabled often struggle with obesity and many don’t have access to a fitness center.

Annie Downey, Marcfirst’s Director of Development Training, said the program also has a nutritional component so their clients learn how to eat better.

“Most of these individuals haven’t been able to have a gym membership before and they get whatever is made for them,” Downey said.

The one-year pilot program is hosted by the Advocate BroMenn Health and Fitness Center in the Center for Integrated Wellness which helps clients including Katie Guy of Bloomington. She said the plan has helped her reach her weight goal.

“I’ve been feeling good about myself because I don’t eat seconds,” Guy said. “I get full easily so that’s a good thing too.”

Tim Littell of Bloomington said he is there at least once a week to ride a stationary bike or walk the track.

Littell said he feels “really wonderful” after each workout.

“Come out and work out. It feels good,” he declared.

The pilot program has about 20 Marcfirst clients participating so far. It also pays for Marcfirst staff to get in their own workouts.

McGinnis added the health board is already working on a funding source to extend the program beyond this year and is hoping to add more agencies.

Eric Stock can be reached at


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