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Thursday, July 2, 2009 12:09 pm

New nonprofit plans fitness center for the disabled

Leaders launch capital campaign, seek private funds

Chrysalis’ fitness center plans include weight machines that can be adjusted for people in wheelchairs, treatment rooms for chiropractic care and a multipurpose gym.

As Illinois prepares to slash funding for, and effectively shut down, social service and nonprofit organizations, Kerry Jennings is working to launch Chrysalis Independence Foundation, Inc. — a nonprofit that plans to build a fitness center for Springfield’s low-income and disabled communities.

So how’s he going to do it?

“I want this all to be privately funded,” Jennings, the organization’s development coordinator, says. “We don’t want to say we depend on state dollars. We want it to truly belong to the community.”

Chrysalis Independence Foundation, Inc., was established in 2007 after Jennings, who was born with cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair, approached several area fitness centers and asked if they would install equipment that can be used by both disabled and non-disabled members. According to Jennings, more than 30,000 people in Sangamon County live with a disability.

“You go to one gym, you might be able to get in the pool, but you can’t do anything else,” he says. “Or you go to one gym, you might be able to lift weights, and that’s it.”

Jennings received a poor response, so he instead helped initiate an idea to build a brand new facility with greater opportunities for people with disabilities.

Early blueprints for the fitness center include weight machines that can be adjusted for members in wheelchairs, treatment rooms for chiropractic care and acupuncture, personal training packages and a multipurpose gymnasium and play field. Since most gyms are too expensive for people on a fixed-income, Jennings adds, Chrysalis will offer discounted membership rates.

Jennings and Patricia Bednarchik, the nonprofit’s marketing director who suffered a traumatic brain injury after a 2000 car accident, moved into their corner office in downtown’s Myers Building on Feb. 2. The pair manages the organization’s day-to-day operations, which includes launching its upcoming capital campaign.

“I think it’s unique that two people with disabilities are trying to make this project go,” Jennings says. “We’re a small, but mighty force.”

So far they’ve raised $1,000, and with the help of the organization’s six-member board, they’ll host a trivia night fundraiser on July 18 at Laurel United Methodist Church. Jennings says they’ve also been working with U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., to secure federal stimulus funds for the project.

Once Chrysalis receives more funding, Jennings says, the board will decide whether to partner with existing organizations or build from the ground up. They’ve already considered several locations, he adds, and hope to have final building plans ready by June 2010.

When asked if he’s worried about introducing a new nonprofit organization during the economic downturn, Jennings responds with determination:

“You’re always worried about that. I always tell the board that it’s a very tough environment right now. But I have a job to do, so I’m going to do it.”

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