A $500,000 gift from an anonymous donor is helping a local not-for-profit society open a Victoria community centre to help people with Parkinson’s disease and other movement disorders.
Jillian Carson, chairwoman of the Pacific Wellness Project, said the donation means the organization formerly known as ParkinGo Wellness Society should be able to open its new 2,400-square-foot gym and community centre at Blanshard Street and Hillside Avenue by January.
It will be housed in part of a building formerly occupied by Jordan’s Furniture and will offer a multi-disciplinary approach to Parkinson’s management based on rigorous exercise using PWR! Moves, a physical fitness regime for individuals living with Parkinson’s disease.
Activities such as cycling, yoga, circuit training and Rock Steady Boxing, found to be beneficial to those with Parkinson’s, will be provided along with music, voice and dance programs.
“I was absolutely thrilled,” said Carson, a Victoria physiotherapist who founded the volunteer-driven organization after she was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2009 and had to give up her practice.
“Working on this has been a passion, and it gave me a chance to use my physiotherapy skills, but it’s the result of a lot of hard work by volunteers.”
The donation provided the financial stability required to enable the organization to meet growing demands, she said.
“I get phone calls and emails every day, and at this point we haven’t been able to handle anymore,” said Carson, 57, whose fitness programs are currently offered in a patchwork of locations in the region.
An estimated 1,200 people in the capital region have been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, a progressive nervous system disorder that impairs movement and balance.
A pilot project that helped people with Parkinson’s vent their anger and frustration, stave off depression and increase co-ordination through boxing-inspired workouts has proven particularly popular, Carson said.
Classes are held at the Island MMA Training Centre, 831 Fisgard St., and led by Jason Heit, a longtime amateur and professional boxer and martial arts competitor.
“It’s very important that people with Parkinson’s get high-intensity exercise about one hour in duration, multiple times during the week,” said Heit, the new facility’s head coach.
“It can be any activity, even dance. The thing about boxing is there’s so much choreography to the moves. They’re thinking the whole time. It’s not just punch the bag. We spend a lot of time on co-ordination, body mechanics and balance.”
Carson said the new facility will dramatically increase the number of people with Parkinson’s it can serve, as well as their caregivers and families.
“We are very much making this a community place for many people to come. We don’t want to exclude anybody,” she said.
Heit says he is amazed by the progress he has witnessed during the pilot project.
“It’s challenging not just physically, but mentally,” he said. “They’re learning about cognitive processing because it activates the brain as well, keeping them stimulated and thinking.”
The donation provides core funding to the PWP program for the next three years.