NSYMCA's Special Needs Volunteers Learn Valuable Life Lessons

  • North Suburban YMCA Exercise Connection volunteer Zack Lofman (left) helps Exercise Connection participant do sit-ups.North Suburban YMCA

    North Suburban YMCA Exercise Connection volunteer Zack Lofman (left) helps Exercise Connection participant do sit-ups.North Suburban YMCA

Updated 9/24/2021 9:16 AM

When 17-year-old Zack Lofman began volunteering at the North Suburban YMCA's Exercise Connection, a program for young adults with special needs, he never imagined the essential life lessons he was about to learn.

"Being a volunteer has made me more patient with people with special accommodations. I think it's a skill that everyone needs to learn, to just be patient and wait," said Lofman.


When Lofman reached his school's required 20 service hours, he asked if he could continue to volunteer. Now to date, Lofman, who feels that everyone has an obligation to give back in some way, has volunteered for over 140 hours of Exercise Connection and yoga classes.

"It's given me a new perspective on my life. My problems seems small in comparison to a child or adult with special needs or a parent of a person with special needs," explained Lofman.

The Y's Exercise Connection program, led by Tom March, Certified Autism Exercise Coach, has expanded its Saturday morning class schedule, crediting its success to its dedicated high school age volunteers.

"The longevity of volunteers can be short lived due to extra-curricular activities and academic needs," he said. "We are very fortunate to have stability and quality from our volunteer staff."

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Until recently, volunteers would come from local schools seeking 20 service hours to fill a requirement for their classes.

"Now, the Y welcomes volunteers that have chosen to work with the autistic and special needs population," explains March.

Each volunteer is vetted to ensure that they have what March calls "a service heart."

Samantha Field, a Freshman at Glenbrook North High School, volunteers two hours a week for the Y's Exercise Connection and yoga classes, and she plans to continue her volunteer work at the Y throughout high school.

"I've learned so much about helping people with autism through my volunteer work, including using breathing exercises to help class participants calm down,"

Field noted, adding that it was a "great feeling" to know that you're doing something useful for someone else.

"I've also learned there are many different types of autism and everyone is affected differently. And, if someone has autism, they can still be an amazing person," she said.


Throughout its commitment to provide services for the special needs community, the North Suburban YMCA has maintained a range of classes that provide fundamental physical and social opportunities for this population. The Y uses yoga, dance, swimming, and exercise classes to empower the autism and special needs community, helping them create an active lifestyle. The classes are designed with the aid of the volunteers who provide workouts specific to the individual's needs.

"To see young people so dedicated to their service to others is heartwarming and a positive reflection on our community. We're so lucky to have these folks at the Y," commented March.

For more information about the Exercise Connection Program at the North Suburban YMCA or to volunteer, contact Ellen Mirochnick, North Suburban YMCA Special Service Coordinator at emirochnick@nsymca.org.

About the North Suburban YMCA

The North Suburban YMCA services Northbrook and 14 surrounding communities with programs and tools that help its residents become healthier, more connected, and confident, ensuring that everyone, regardless of age, income, or background, has the opportunity to learn, grow, and thrive. The NSYMCA focuses on Youth Development, Healthy Living, and Social Responsibility and is a 501(c)3 charitable organization, inclusive and welcoming to all in our community. Learn more at NSYMCA.org.

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