Everybody belongs in recreation, which is why the award-winning All Bodies Community (ABC) program is creating space around Vancouver for all bodies regardless of size, shape, gender, and ability. ABC classes are maximizing the potential of recreation programs to improve community health and well-being. In their own words, “Inclusivity requires going the extra mile to support participation.”
The popular program welcomes community members who may not feel as comfortable in what some would consider “mainstream” recreation and fitness settings. It gives them the agency to work towards their personal physical activity priorities by adapting the flexible healthy-living program however they see fit.
ABC participants are encouraged to determine their own comfort levels and fitness goals, allowing success to look different to each and every member.
The welcoming and accessible program earned ABC an honourable mention in BCRPA’s Program Excellence Award category in 2022.
‘I feel stronger and more independent’
After more than a decade of avoiding the pool, one participant expressed how life-changing it was to get their toes wet again through an ABC program.
“I have issues with anxiety, depression, PTSD and bipolar disorder, obesity and arthritis, and low-income difficulties,” they say.
Despite being a competitive swimmer in junior high school, going to the pool eventually wasn’t an option anymore. That’s until the participant was introduced to an ABC Walking Water Polo program, which they say improved their mental health more than other programs they tried in the past.
“My list of reasons why I wouldn’t go to a public pool were many,” they add, describing struggles with extreme social anxiety.
“In the All Bodies Community fitness program, I am surrounded by a diverse group of friendly, laughing people, in a supportive and accepting environment motivating me to move. We face common challenges pursuing personal goals, each in our own way, at our own speed.”
The participant says they struggled to leave the house before starting the program, but now they find entering a community centre exciting and look forward to seeing other members of the ABC group.
“I feel stronger and more independent. I feel safe and confident. I feel hopeful about my health and fitness future.”
Building a Universal Fitness Program
When the ABC program began in 2010, it was a 12-week program serving a small group of eight participants. That group of eight has grown to a community of more than 600, with about 150-250 members participating each season.
Kate Lee, ABC Program Coordinator, explains the program is designed to be as universal as possible to meet the need of people searching for programs such as this. “Once it’s there, they’ll use it.”
ABC doesn’t target any particular population and welcomes anyone to enroll to meet their goals, such as increasing physical activity and physical function, improving mental health, reducing loneliness and increasing a sense of belonging, or reducing fears of injury.
ABC is programming based around fitness while developing strong bonds. Lee says some volunteers are growing their practice to become leaders. Even when some participants aren’t in the program anymore, they often check in with the community ABC created.
The benefits of the program reach beyond improving the lives of participants. It has also led to a growing interest from fitness instructors who want to incorporate more inclusive practices into their classes.
The once fitness-focus program now reaches beyond its initial scope to offer as many options as possible to community members, says Derek Linwood, Sport Services Coordinator with the Vancouver Board of Parks and Recreation. “It’s about the people,” he says. “Community is driving the ship.”
Outreach is also key to expanding engagement and directing individuals to programs that suit them best, whether that’s an ABC class or another community resource. “We want to be part of that big picture for them,” Linwood adds.
While ABC can often work with existing resources in community centres, Linwood and Lee attest that collaboration helps the program thrive. This is particularly true when individuals and community centers work together to share space and resources to provide the classes people want.
If the ABC community wants yoga in the park, Lee and Linwood say they’ll find a way to make it happen.
Meeting individuals where they’re at isn’t limited to the type of programming offered but also how it’s packaged. ABC participants have access to a library of pre-recorded workouts they can use at any time. This virtual option kept the community involved during the pandemic and now allows the program to reach an even wider audience.
These virtual classes have been extremely successful. The combined total for virtual workouts is nearing 48,000 participants, with an average of 100 per class.
Heading into Fall 2022, the program will be undergoing redevelopment and expanding from three site locations – Hillcrest, Kensington, and Trout Lake — to seven, as the Vancouver Park Board gears up to provide more dedicated staff to support it.
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