Justin Tooley and Toni Jackson, coaches at TheGym, are committed to changing lives. Since 2013, TheGym has helped young people gain or regain their strength — some even learning to walk again — through their Special Athletes Program. This program teaches behavioral skills to children with different abilities while also being a form of therapy and exercise.
Jonathan Ledsma, a former gym member who saw the potential in the program’s growth, first introduced Toni and Justin to Madison House. TheGym was then paired with two Madison House Program Directors who “hit the ground running”, learning everything they could about the program and defining how volunteers could best serve the needs of their participants.
“The need for support was increasing as the program grew,” Justin says. “By partnering with Madison House, we had a good feeling that their volunteers would bring the enthusiasm and willingness to help others. They have, and it’s been invaluable.”
"The volunteers from Madison House have been exceptional."
Toni also stressed the importance of volunteers in helping to run the program smoothly while maintaining the safety of participants and keeping a 1:1 athlete to coach ratio.
“We could not be more pleased with the awesome young people who have come through the doors of TheGym,” Toni says. “Their willingness to be open and receptive to feedback and how they have engaged with the athletes in the program has been amazing.”
According to Justin and Toni, much of an athlete’s success can depend on the volunteer who is coaching them. Madison House volunteers who participate in the Special Athletes program must work with their athlete to address the various physical and interpersonal challenges that the young person may face. For that reason, the volunteer’s ability to remain open and adjust to feedback has a significant impact on the participants they work with.
Image: Recreational Therapy Head Program and Program Directors
Total Estimated service hours during 2018 – 2019 academic year:
Estimated Value of volunteers’ 2018 – 2019 service hours:
Community Partner Organizations
Albemarle County Post High Program, Charlottesville Area Riding Therapy, Charlottesville High School Parkside, Region Ten Meadowcreek Center, Special Olympics, The Arc of the Piedmont, TheGym, and Therapeutic Adventures Inc.
“We have a young man who is on the Autism spectrum and has limited verbiage,” Toni says. “One of our Madison House volunteers was able to engage with this athlete despite the language barrier. Understanding that barrier, this volunteer was able to help the athlete through various non-verbal cues, and eventually they succeeded in completing the exercise. It was very exciting to watch.”
Justin agrees, sharing that he and Toni have been both pleased and grateful for the support they have received. “The volunteers from Madison House have been exceptional,” he says. “We look forward to continuing our collaboration and watching the Special Athletes Program grow.”
"By partnering with Madison House, we had a good feeling that their volunteers would bring the enthusiasm and willingness to help others. They have, and it’s been invaluable"