Grant helps Las Vegas recreation program serve veterans

Las Vegan Leonard Polk, 63, always wanted to learn to swim. The disabled Marine Corps veteran finally did learn a year ago. He was helped by an instructor named Rebecca Allen-Schacherbauer. Her lessons were courtesy of the city of Las Vegas Parks, Recreation and Neighborhood Services Department and a grant from the National Recreation and Park Association.

Polk has lost 40 pounds with the program ("Not enough," he said), but he continues his water therapy on a weekly basis. He noted that as a big man, he loves the fact that he is weightless in the water.

"Time swimming is also very peaceful," he said.

City of Las Vegas Senior Inclusion Specialist Bernard Preston explained that three years of $5,000 NRPA grants to the city’s Adaptive Recreation Program may not seem like a lot of money. However, with programs that are inexpensive to run and by spending "every penny" on the veterans, more than 100 veterans a year can benefit. The 2012 goal is providing recreation services to 135 disabled veterans.

"Many veterans would like the opportunity to work out or swim at a local sports club, but they may not have the budget for that or they may simply be uncomfortable being in the same classes as nondisabled people," Preston explained.

"What we do is to visit veterans’ clinics and hospitals and groups like the Blind Veterans Association, the Paralyzed Veterans Association or American Legion and tell them about our programs specifically targeting disabled veterans. We then interview prospective program participants and schedule classes, everything from aquatic therapy and swimming lessons to fishing clinics, golf programs and wheelchair basketball," he said

Very often a medical professional from the Veterans Administration will alert the veteran that the city of Las Vegas offers special programs for veterans. The VA runs the MOVE! weight-management program for veterans. Each year, a number of the participants, like Polk, follow the program by becoming part of the Las Vegas recreation activities for disabled veterans. An application form is completed, and Preston arranges a time when the applicant and Preston can meet.

"I want people in our program who are motivated," Preston said. "We’ll give 100 percent to anyone who is motivated to improve their physical well-being, to have fun and socialize with other vets. If I sense that the person applying just feels entitled to something, then our programs aren’t for them."

Preston is motivated to help veterans because he said, "It’s the right thing to do." He learned about helping the disabled from his mother, Rosalyn, who took disabled individuals into her home to care for them.

"Disabled individuals were always part of our family," Preston said. "My career is just a continuation of my early life."

At the University of Texas Pan-American, Preston studied sociology and then received a Master of Science in rehabilitation counseling. He is a certified rehabilitation counselor and a certified life-care planner. Prior to joining the city of Las Vegas, he worked with the state of Nevada’s Rehabilitation Division.

"Many of our veterans opt for the once-a-week aquatic therapy program," Preston said. "This is a program designed to strengthen mobility, coordination, balance, endurance, flexibility and core stability using a variety of aquatic techniques. Rebecca will have several classes on Monday mornings with no more than four veterans in a class. Depending on their physical limitations, she designs specific exercise programs for each one."

At the same time, the veteran receives a free six-month Adaptive Membership Pass to four city of Las Vegas recreation centers: the Municipal Pool at 431 E. Bonanza Road; the Chuck Minker Sports Complex at 275 Mojave Road; Mirabelli Park, 6212 Hargrove Ave.; and Veterans Memorial Leisure Services Center, 101 N. Pavilion Center Drive. One-on-one swimming lessons are subsidized by the grant during that six-month period, as are any of the other programs (golf, fishing, etc.) available to disabled veterans.

James Bailey, 56, a disabled Air Force veteran, has chronic joint pain that in the past kept him from much strenuous physical activity. His Veterans Administration counselor alerted him to the Las Vegas program for disabled veterans, and he began aquatic therapy.

The result? Bailey reports he is feeling better overall with improved movement and the ability to tackle more strenuous exercises than in the beginning. He is working on his own to continue the improvement, going to the pool three or four days a week.

When the first six months of free access to city of Las Vegas facilities ends, he plans to continue exercising by paying his own way. The access pass will cost him just $10 for the next six months, though specific program costs can range from $5 to $100. Bailey said the aquatic program is a "great start" for disabled veterans who want to exercise and become more active.

To contact Preston and inquire about the city of Las Vegas Adaptive Recreation Program for disabled veterans, call 229-4904.

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