AZ Giving & Leading: Arizona Bridge to Independent Living

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Arizona Bridge to Independent Living (ABIL) provides a variety of services to people with disabilities. ABIL President and CEO Phil Pangrazio talks about the organization and its Virginia G. Piper Sports & Fitness Center (SpoFit), one of two centers in the U.S. that is specifically designed for individuals who have various types of disabilities.

Ted Simons: Arizona bridge to independent living is a nonprofit that provides a wide variety of services to people with disabilities. One of the newest offerings is the Virginia G. Piper sports and fitness center. The 13 million-dollar facility opened a year ago. The funding came from private donation with $5 coming from the 2006 Phoenix bond election. Last week, producer David Majure and photographer, Steve Snow visited the fitness center, which is located near light rail at 50th street and Washington.

Video: The Virginia G. Piper sports and fitness center is a sports and recreation center designed for people with disabilities. We have got 4,500 square foot facility. It's got two basketball courts. We have a pool. We have got running track. We have a rock wall.

David Majure: Just off the main entrance is a rotunda featuring larger than life photographs of athletes at the top of the game.

David Majure: It sets a tone for what's possible with a lot of hard work and determination.

Joe Jackson: The center has helped me to train, and helped me to put on weight, which was the hardest thing. Before, I weighed 98 pounds. 20 pounds heavier now.

David Majure: 23-year-old Joe Jackson, an ASU engineering student, is using the gym to train for wheelchair Rugby. Jackson injured his spinal cord in 2005 playing football for Hamilton High. And while his football days are over, he says he never could have imagined life without sports.

Joe Jackson: No. I've been competitive all my life, and being an athlete helps with everything you do. You have that competitive drive, and play sports, whatever, live life.

David Majure: The sports and fitness center, they call it the SpoFit, makes it easier for people with all types of disabilities to live healthier, more active lives. They can climb rock wall. Go swimming. And participate in all kinds of fitness classes and sports. 16 Both casual and competitive. A membership cost $35 a month, but discounts are available for people on fixed disability income. And families are encouraged to work out together.

Gabe Gerbic: This is one of a kind. In the western United States. Unfortunately, your average gym doesn't cater to people with disabilities, until you end up with, with, perhaps, a facility that, that's, you know, accessible to get in the door at ADA compliant, but unfortunately, people don't go to fitness facilities to use the bathrooms or to use, the door.

David Majure: Gabe is the fitness coordinator. Helped to design the gym and select the equipment.

Gabe Gerbic: We wanted to design the facility around accessibility so that no matter who came through the door, it would be universally accessible.

David Majure: People with disabilities no longer have to sit on the sidelines. The SpoFit gives everyone an opportunity to exercise, and it puts athletes like Joe Jackson back in the game.

Joe Jackson: My goal now is to, let's say, 2016, make the Olympic team, paralympic team.

Ted Simons: And here with more on the fitness center is Phil Pangrazio. He's President and CEO of Arizona bridge to independent living. Good to have you here. Thanks for joining us. As far as abil, Arizona Bridge to Independent Living, what exactly are we talking about?

Phil Pangrazio: Well, it is a center for independent living. There is hundreds of centers for independent living all over the country. That, that were originally established by the rehab act in 1973. And you know, we started in 1981 to provide real core set of services, independent living skills. Pure -- peer support and mentorship, and to do advocacy, the independent living movement really was the disability rights movement that pushed for the Americans with disabilities act, and so, centers for independent living really were born out of the disability rights movement. To provide those basic services for, for people with disabilities. But from there, many centers like ABIL moved on to a lot of other services like doing home accessibility modifications. Offering personnel assistant services, and offering employment services. And social security work incentives counseling. And so, we have really, really expanded their, their array of services to people with disabilities.

Ted Simons: And I know the fitness center is on 50th street and Washington. It's located on the campus or within this disability empowerment center. What exactly is that?

Phil Pangrazio: We conceived of this idea. More than decade ago to, to bring together a group of nonprofit organizations, all 501c3s that serve people with disabilities. And we thought that, that to kind of create an incubator, so to speak, and an environment where, where all of these organizations -- it could make services to people with disabilities more convenient. More of a one-stop shopping place. And to get services and, and to, to create more collaboration opportunities, and to create the synergies that, that bringing us all together under one roof would do. So, we have got organizations like the spinal cord injury association, the brain injury association. And raising special kids. The M.S. society. The Valley Center of the Deaf. And Arizona autism united. The statewide independent living council. And of course, ABIL and few others. And so all of us together have, have really brought together a lot of different services.

Ted Simons: And how important is this fitness center to getting all those services and all those folks in there working out? You have got swimming pools, and basketball courts, and you have got the whole, rock climbing walls, the whole nine yards?

Phil Pangrazio: We do. And the sports and fitness center was the, the last piece of, of the puzzle. There twos basketball courts, the rock climbing wall, the fitness center with all -- every piece of equipment in there is accessible for folks with disabilities, but also, usable by people who can walk and can ambulate. So, it's not all for folks with disabilities necessarily.

Ted Simons: Now, I read that this is one of only two such centers in the United States. And you are telling me that maybe it's really the only one of its kind?

Phil Pangrazio: It's the only one of its kind that combined this disability services campus. With the sports and fitness center. And there is a, a sports and fitness center in Birmingham, Alabama, called health south, actually, built the facility. And they are more -- they are serving as the paralympic training site for the United States paralympic programs. And it is a big facility, over 100,000 square feet. Our facilities, 45,000 square feet, it is bit smaller on the sports end of it, but we also have the, the nonprofit organizations, piece of it.

Ted Simons: We only got 30 seconds left, what's next?

Phil Pangrazio: We're going -- we want to get the word out so that people will come down and use the facility. It's already been, we already have over 800 people that are members of the organization, of the sportscenter. And we just want people to know about it. We think that we're still getting people to learn about, about, that we're here, we're at 50th street and Washington. And we want people to come down and use the beautiful facility.

Ted Simons: It's great information. It's good to have you here. Thanks for joining us.

Phil Pangrazio: Thank you.

Ted Simons: And that is it for now. I'm Ted Simons, thank you very much for joining us, you have a great evening.

Phil Pangrazio:President and CEO, Arizona Bridge to Independent Living;

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