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Kehillah at Springfield JCC celebrating 11 years of special needs programs

SPRINGFIELD – Working out is important to Vincent Pirro of Agawam.

He lifts weights using exercise equipment at home, and also weight trains at the Springfield JCC.

Vincent, a 20-year-old with Down syndrome, participates in Fitness Buddies, a program of Kehillah, the Springfield Jewish Community Center’s special needs department. “Kehillah” means “community” in Hebrew.

Fitness Buddies allows Vincent to work out with weights along with a fitness friend.

“His fitness buddy is Juliet Wu, who lives in the Boston area, but comes home on weekends,” says his mother Diane. “Juliet has been so wonderful to Vincent, volunteering her time to be his fitness buddy for the past three years.

“Our kids can do more than we think,” she added.

Fitness Buddies is just one component of Kehillah, which offers social groups for teens and adults; activities like bowling and art, music and cooking classes; and sports activities like adaptive aquatics and basketball.

To celebrate 11 years of programming for individuals with special needs, the staff and volunteers of Kehillah are hosting a CHEERS! Block Party on Sunday, Sept. 23, from 2:30 – 5:30 p.m. at the Springfield JCC, located at 1160 Dickinson St. in Springfield.

This family event will feature food trucks, live music, games and raffle prizes. All are invited to have fun and to learn more about Kehillah programming.

Besides participating in Fitness Buddies, Vincent Pirro also enjoys Move to The Beat, Kehillah’s fun dance class for teens. He and his friend Charlie transition on their own from Move To The Beat to Kehillah’s Teen Social Group.

“Vincent has been able to take classes that click with his interests like science of fitness, ropes and games, and wilderness team building,” says Diane. “I let him attend a hike, which turned out to be a rock-climbing adventure!”

The independence and the socialization acquired are a joy to watch, Diane says, especially when Vincent and his friends return from a field trip with big smiles on their faces.

“Independently, Vincent won’t drive a car or take off with friends for the local pizza shop, but through social group, he gets to do typical things.”

Participating in Fitness Buddies and working out at the JCC has helped Vincent to train for the Special Olympics.

This year was the first time the Special Olympics of Massachusetts had a powerlifting program in Western Massachusetts. Vincent, a member of the Westfield Special Olympics team, was a competitor and this fall has been invited to compete in a local powerlifting competition hosted by the United States of America Power Lifting Association.

Diane says that Kehillah is well known throughout the Pioneer Valley.

“Each December, friends and parents whom I have met as coordinator for the Westfield Special Olympics Team ask about Kehillah’s New Year’s Eve Dance Party,” she says, referring to the JCC’s New Year’s Eve dinner and dance party for teens and adults with special needs.

Party-goers come together to enjoy a fun evening, complete with DJ, snacks, desserts, as well as a replicated count down and group-singing of Auld Lang Syne.

To parents considering participating in Kehillah’s program for individuals with special needs, Diane encourages, “Just do it! Parents wonder if certain programs will be a good fit, and there’s a fear of doing something new. Kehillah programs offer so much to choose from, that there will be something for your child.”

For more information about Kehillah or to take a tour of the Springfield JCC, contact Bethany Young at (413) 739-4715 or

CAP: Kehillah members enjoying Move to  the Beat.

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