Local nonprofit empowers all with the ability to live independent lives

The kinds of efforts that make the difference for people living with disabilities helping to show them an independent and full life is possible. (Submitted photo)

An independent lifestyle that many of us take for granted is a gift at the heart of a local nonprofit’s effort where patrons — both military and civilian — are empowered to breakthrough the limitations of disability.

“Our mission is to provide exceptional adaptive sports, recreation, aquatic, and fitness programs that promote the independence, health, and overall well-being of people with disabilities and their families,” said Ability 360 Sports and Fitness Center Vice President and General Manger Gus LaZear.

“We do this by providing the best of our ability in making our programs and facility inclusive to people of abilities as well as being an environment welcoming to the community.”

While its headquarters are based in downtown Phoenix at 5025 E. Washington Street, the 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, is seeking to help an afflicted population with little resources of support. Ability 360 offers six separate locations throughout the Phoenix metropolitan area and reaches into both Pinal and Pima counties.

“The Ability360 Sports & Fitness Center is the only one of its kind in Arizona and one of only three in the country,” Mr. LaZear explains.

“We are dedicated to supporting individuals of all ages with both invisible and visible disabilities. There is clearly a need for the programs we provide evidenced by our over 2,100 members including more than 800 active duty or retired military members.”

While supporting those who have voluntarily put themselves in harms way to ensure the American democracy remains intact, Mr. LaZear also points out the Ability 360 effort never turns anyone away.

“That’s the core of our mission,” he says of helping people who deserve better services and a holistic approach to independent living for all.

“In addition to the programs provided at the Sports & Fitness Center, Ability360 is the largest center for independent living in the state providing services to thousands of clients in the areas of advocacy, home care services, independent living services, employment, peer mentoring and much more.”

While classified as disabled, Mr. LaZear points out like all Americans — anyone can accomplish what they desire with the right mindset.

“Anything they put their mind to can be accomplished!” he said.

“Our members have achieved their own personal fitness goals, watched their children participate in adaptive sports for the first time, won Paralympic medals, climbed mountains, finished marathons … the possibilities are endless! We are here to support them and help them cross their own personal finish line whatever that might be.”

The open-door policy, advocacy and education element is what drew the Scottsdale Charros to lending support to the Ability 360 effort as The Charro Foundation provided a $5,000 grant to provide students at the Scottsdale Unified School District a glimpse into the lives of independent living.

“To truly serve your community you have to go to the margins and join hands with those that truly have need,” said Jason Klonoski, a Scottsdale Charro and advocate for Ability 360. “In the case of Ability 360, there is no other facility like it in the state. It is a place where the machines and people are already adapted for the users. This facility is unique and incredible because of who it serves and how well it does it.”

For 56 years the Scottsdale Charros have been in constant pursuit of improving the lives of Scottsdale residents while preserving the community’s ties to its western heritage.

“They are a young entity, just six years, but provide a necessary rehabilitative and exercise function for people with disabilities,” he said. “They serve those with invisible and visible disabilities of all ages. Right now their biggest task is raising awareness.”

An effort to raise awareness is afoot at Scottsdale Schools through what has been coined, the “Synergy Program” where students are brought to Ability 360 to learn more about living an independent life with disability.

“The Synergy Program is made up of two components,” Mr. LaZear explains.

“The first is customized field trips for SUSD students with and without disabilities. The field-trips will educate the students on the importance of health, wellness and recreation in addition to showing those with disabilities the variety of adaptive sports and fitness programs available at Abiltiy360. The second component is to provide membership and program scholarships for Scottsdale residents and their families with a financial hardship.”

Mr. LaZear says the financial support is a game-changer for families struggling to make ends meet while providing support for a disabled loved one.

“This financial support will enable them with the opportunity to access the diverse range of fitness and program opportunities at our facility,” he said.

Mr. Klonoski says his experiences at Ability 360 have reshaped his understanding of what can be accomplished — disability or not.

“As a favor I came by and was just blown away by what they were doing,” he said.

“I was already supporting some other military initiatives. This tied in well with that, but they do so much more. Also, they will never turn anyone away. This is a shining example that our community has not left those with disabilities behind.”

Go to ability360.org.

Northeast Valley Managing Editor Terrance Thornton can be contacted at tthornton@newszap.com

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