Making a difference through fitness
Inside the youth building at the Chehalem Armory Center, a circle of enthusiastic athletes stretches out and prepares for an evening of smiles and sweat. In the center of the room is 19-year-old Alexis Hayes, leading the group in their stretches before a series of activities to train the body and mind.
Hayes' inherent positivity and ability to lead is evident from the start. Her students in this fitness class, all of whom have different disabilities, listen to her intently throughout the evening as she smiles along with them, providing an important service to a community that was previously underserved.
"My current job title is personal support worker, so I work with different clients with disabilities, and through that I was able to see that Newberg doesn't have very many accessible resources for that population," Hayes said. "The focus of the class is to bring people in the community closer together through exercise and fun activities. Also, a lot of parents don't get the opportunity to exchange contact information with other parents in this community and this class provides them with that opportunity to connect and watch their athletes have some fun."
Hayes was a peer tutor for special needs students at Newberg High School for four years before she graduated in 2018. Prior to that, she would shadow her mom when she worked with older adults with disabilities and fell in love with the work.
"From a very young age, my mom worked at a home for people with disabilities, and so I got to go with her," Hayes said. "I have two brothers with autism and when they came into the picture that's when I got the full experience of being around people with disabilities. It was intriguing and I started to work with physical education classes during middle school."
After high school, Hayes became certified as a personal support worker through the state and continued working with children and adults with disabilities in the community. However, opportunities in the realm of fitness were virtually nonexistent locally and she had to travel with her clients to Lake Oswego – which could sometimes be an hour drive and was inconvenient for everyone.
T.H.R.I.V.E. – which stands for Think Health and Reach Inclusion Via Exercise – was born out of necessity and is now a popular fitness class for children and adults with disabilities from Newberg and other communities. Hayes was recognized by a Portland TV station for her efforts to make Newberg a better place and she said there's been a boost in the class's enrollment since the story aired.
The goal of the class is to provide much-needed socialization for the athletes as well as a place to work out and stay healthy. Some of the games are lighthearted and don't involve too much strenuous exercise – musical chairs, for example – while others involve exercises that are fun and challenging for some.
Everything in T.H.R.I.V.E. is tailored to the wide variety of abilities in the class and people of all ages and abilities are welcome to participate. Hayes posts about the weekly classes on a Facebook page titled "Thrive Oregon," and they typically take place at 6 p.m. on Thursdays in the armory's youth building.
Hayes said she hopes the classes have an even farther-reaching impact in the future as more people come out to get fit and have some fun.
"We're working to make it an official nonprofit," Hayes said. "Ideally, I'd like to expand and inspire others in different communities to do the same thing. Most communities are lacking something like this and I'm glad we've been able to bring it to Newberg."
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