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Voices for Independence | TRPIL Health and Wellness Center
Voices for Independence | TRPIL Health and Wellness Center

Life Changing Is ... Health and Fitness

Voices for Independence/TRPIL Health and Wellness Center

“We're creating a community just like anywhere else.”

Like many of the clients he works with at the Voices for Independence/TRPIL Community Center, Matthew Sabatini has had to adapt.

Matthew didn’t come from a background of working with people with disabilities. But in his six years at the center, he’s learned a lot.

“I came from a strength and conditioning background,” says Matthew, the community center’s wellness coordinator. “I've learned a lot from people who have come from UPMC (with) spinal cord injuries. They've taught me things like, ‘How can we improve transferring?’ ‘How can we improve getting into my car?’

"So, a lot of things we do work to improve health and fitness."

A new health and wellness center was part of the Voices for Independence/TRPIL Community Center's newly renovated Washington, Pa., facility. The community center held a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the former YWCA on West Maiden Street in December 2023. In addition to the new health and wellness center, renovations included a new internet cafe and accessible training kitchen.

Funding from UPMC Community HealthChoices helped make the renovations possible.

“People love the fitness center. It's filled every day,” says Shona Eakin, chief executive officer of Voices for Independence. “I'm so happy because people with disabilities are not generally sick.

"The perception is that if you have a disability, you're ill. But there are coexisting things that come with disabilities, like maintaining a healthy weight and being able to work out. It helps people do that.”

The new health and wellness center features fully accessible equipment for use with assistive technology like a wheelchair or power chair. Individual programs can be customized to accommodate physical and mental disabilities.

The goal is to not only improve someone's overall health but their independence as well.

“We're going to try and get the muscle stronger," Matthew says. "We're also going to try and promote independence in the home, whether it be, 'I need to be able to stand at my kitchen counter longer,' (or), ‘I need to be able to transfer in my bed better.'"

Matthew's approach involves fostering a familial environment where everybody gets to know each other, similar to many other fitness centers.  

“They feel more comfortable that way, and it just creates a better experience,” he says. “Sometimes they’ll just hang out after their workout.”

Doing so leads to a supportive atmosphere that encourages positive physical and mental health. As Matthew notes, some people acquire a disability later in life. They then need to adapt to a new lifestyle, such as using assistive technology.

“So, they'll integrate with someone. They'll learn from someone who may have had a disability their whole life,” he says of the natural bonds that are formed. “Sometimes, they’re away from the public when they’re rehabbing. Our gym provides a good place where they can start to integrate and come back.”

As a nonprofit, Voices for Independence can provide free services to people who may not have the funds or transportation to join another gym. It creates an opportunity for Matthew and those in the community to continue to learn from one another.

“I think it's just the fact that anybody that comes in here may have a disability, but we work out the same,” Matthew says. “You can work the muscles the same. Sure, there might be some underlying physiological issues that we might have to change the way we program, but we're all working out the same here. We're all doing similar exercises.

"We're creating a community just like anywhere else.”

At UPMC, Life Changing Medicine means creating a supportive environment to live independently.

Learn more about how Voices for Independence assists people with disabilities in our communities.

See All That UPMC Does in the Community

Community Commitment

Community Commitment

Working in partnership with the University of Pittsburgh and a wide range of community organizations, we are committed to improving the health of the communities we serve.

Charitable Giving

Charitable Giving

Life Changing Medicine at UPMC is made possible every day through the generosity of numerous individuals, corporations and foundations.

Volunteer Opportunities

Volunteer Opportunities

With volunteers ranging from teens to seniors and options involving office work or patient care, there's a place for all qualifying volunteers at nearly two dozen UPMC hospitals.