Clients show how many pounds they lost the first week

Job placement program helps participants get healthier, lose weight

Non-profit helps those with extra challenges get fitter and leaner

mmeehan1@herald-leader.comMarch 5, 2012 

It could be any Weight Watchers meeting anywhere.

"What's a good snack?" "How much water should you drink in a day?" "What is a correct portion size?" the leader asks as hands of those eager to answer the questions shoot up in the air.

This meeting at Employment Solutions is made up of people who have extra challenges when trying to lose weight. Many of the participants at Employment Solutions, a non-profit that helps those with barriers to employment become self-sufficient, have mental and physical disabilities that keep them from living independently. Because of that, many live in group homes or depend on other people to choose and prepare their food.

For them, food is used often as a reward for good behavior. And keeping active isn't the first priority when dealing with many people with many needs living in one home, said Nicole Kelley, director of expressive programs at Employment Solutions.

Sometimes the level of staffing is an issue, too.

"There is just no way if you have one staffer you can even get everybody together to take a walk," she said. And sometimes people simply don't know the best way to teach good health and fitness, she said.

The weekly informational programs at Employment Solutions — such as one recently in which a chiropractor talked about nutritional health and how losing weight can help your spine and overall health — are just part of the effort.

Eddie Farris proudly wears his blue "Employment Solutions Fitness Challenge" T-shirt that was given to all participants along with a water bottle and a notebook to record their food choices.

By exercising and watching what he eats, Farris has lost 200 pounds. He carries before-and-after pictures, well creased, in his pocket and proudly shares his story.

Participants celebrate their one-week weight loss. (Video by Mary Meehan)

Farris, who lives in Richmond, said he hopes the other folks at Employment Solutions can feel half as good as he does and follow his example. He eats a lot of chicken and salads, he said, and he likes to walk. Since he lost the weight, he has found a new passion — dancing.

Farris is a great example of what can happen with some encouragement and persistence, Kelley said. Many of those taking part in the weight-loss challenge have no idea what it is like to feel fit because they have been heavy since they were children, she said.

Kelley has crafted a program that helps the group learn about food but also offers fun, healthy activities as a reward. In February, a group got to go snow tubing. But in order to take part in the trip, participants had to be able to walk a certain distance to show that they could get up and down the slopes. Daily exercise helped them get into shape so they could take part.

She has high hopes for the six-month program and she hopes it can be an inspiration to others that losing weight is possible for people with disabilities. She is planning a host of new activities, including hikes at Lexington's Raven Run and Frankfort's Salato Wildlife Center.

"People here are getting excited about their achievements," she said, two weeks into the program.

Like anybody who loses a few pounds, they are eager to share. Robert Melady, who during the meeting shared that reducing salt is good for your health, lost six pounds in the first week. Adrianne Cotten, Michelle Aldrich and Rebecca Williams all lost five.

"I think I look wonderful," said Daytona Lewis, who lost 10 pounds in the first week. "Just wonderful."

Mary Meehan: (859) 231-3261. Twitter: @bgmoms. Blog:

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