A pair of weights or cans, a water bottle, and a hand towel are the only necessary supplies for a successful workout at Nicole Katz’s exercise class for young adults with disabilities.
She teaches her class through her work at Keshet-a JUF partner agency serving children and young adults with developmental and varying learning challenges.
As each Zoom video popped in, the participants eagerly looked around for their friends, called out greetings, and sent song requests in the chat. Every week, the 30-minute class is tailored to the group’s interests, from the warmup song to the ending meditation.
Katz enjoys bringing the “simple but fun” workout routines to the class. In her two years of working and volunteering for Keshet, including serving as a direct support professional and working as an aide in the group home, she became inspired to take her work online when the pandemic started.
After her aunt, a group fitness coordinator, inspired her to create a workout class, she watched videos of workouts for adults, kids, and Special Olympics athletes and created a framework. Since her first class at the end of March, she has brought in participants from Keshet’s group home and old friends from her internships with Special Olympics in North Carolina and Argentina.
“I started with a timer and a list of workouts, but it got confusing for me,” Katz said. “Now, I see how the class is doing and make it up as I go. The participants give feedback and song requests, and I try to make it fun for everyone.”
Each of the exercises she presents can be done in several ways, so that no one feels pressured into doing something they don’t want to or can’t do. Instead of jumping jacks, for example, Katz presented an alternative to raise one’s hands up and down. Even if a participant chooses to sit and watch others work out, the class still provides entertainment and social engagement.
“I try to keep people engaged by using their names,” she said. And for both her and the participants, “it’s cool to have a social opportunity with new and old faces.”
Katz has been volunteering with individuals with disabilities since she was in sixth grade and accompanied her father on a medical mission to India. She became involved with the Best Buddies program in high school, and realized, “I knew this is what I wanted to do for a living. It’s a passion I have.”
Katz’s passion shines through during each class, whether she is toasting “
!” with her water bottle between each song, adding fun dance movements that match the song lyrics to the routines (like swimming strokes for “Under the Sea”) and providing a calm meditative focus at the end.
“It’s amazing bringing people together during this crazy time and having something to look forward to every week,” she said.