What is BLOOM?

A fitness program focused on serving people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD).

What is so special about the BLOOM Community? We “Lead With Heart.” Bloom is a fitness community built on creating a sense of belonging, pride and being loved in our athletes. Because Bloom has been effective at making this emotional connection, the athletes show up to exercise with enthusiasm class after class and for long periods of time. The proof that it works: Bloom’s retention rate is over 90%.

Why was BLOOM started? Is there a story or experience that ignited wanting to create a special community like this?

My wife, Jill, and I have a daughter with IDD, Emma. Inspired by her, we wanted to provide access to a fitness program that was focused on meeting the needs of people with IDD. 

It began when, during a visit to an organization that serves the IDD population, I stumbled upon a room of tired, broken fitness equipment. It was clear that not much fitness was happening. So I bought a few bikes to spruce it up and that was the genesis of Bloom. I saw that this population wants movement. Then I observed very closely what the athletes did and did not respond to and that’s how the program was built. Bloom is honored to have our fitness program inside some of the finest IDD service organizations in the country.

What is the mission behind the organization?  

The mission is to lead all people with intellectual and developmental disabilities to a lifetime of wellness and to want to do it. The most challenging and important part of any wellness activity is a person’s willingness to show up. That is why we focus on creating compelling reasons for our athletes to want to exercise. To that end, Bloom is a fun and engaging program. Having fun with friends, being part of the cool community, and being honored for what they earn through Bloom’s goal and reward system offers Bloom athletes something that all people want, but this population doesn’t have many opportunities to experience.

What has it been like to be able to work with and connect with so many different and inspiring people? 

Our athletes inspire us every day. Despite their challenges, they work hard in class and accomplish things they did not think possible. 

Let me tell you about Ashley. She showed up for a cycle class in flip flops and struggled to get on the bike. The class was a challenge, but Ashley showed up again and gradually became a regular. Now she comes to class decked out in Bloom Fitness gear, tennis shoes and cycling gloves. A year later Ashley received an improvement award and broke into tears as her peers began chanting in celebration, “Ashley! Ashley! Ashley!”

On top of that, our athletes show us love in ways that make our lives better. In the words of one of our longtime instructors, “They give me 1000 times more than I could ever give them.”  Having said that, watching our volunteer instructors invest in our athletes and witnessing their passion is simply awe-inspiring. I am so very grateful to be around this devoted, thoughtful group. 

How has BLOOM impacted your life or shifted your perspective?  

As a parent, we would never have asked for a child with a disability. But Emma is a gift, bringing a richness to our lives that is indescribable. As I engage with hundreds of athletes with disabilities in our program, I am regularly reminded of what a gift these people are to the world. Do they have limitations? Sure. But they also bring beauty to the world that those of us in the general population are not capable of giving.

What are some ways you have seen the benefits of physical fitness/exercise really positively impact people’s lives?  

When most people think of physical activity, they think of getting physically stronger, faster or more fit. We see that, too, in our athletes. In addition, we see an obvious emotional lift in our athletes after moving their bodies in class. Feeling stronger physically makes them feel better about themselves emotionally.

This is a population with a propensity to be isolated and lonely, and our athlete’s caregivers tell me all the time that their athlete is happier. So these emotional benefits are tremendous. The physical and emotional benefits improve the lives of our athletes. And when our athletes feel better it makes the lives of their caregivers easier and better.

What has been your favorite moment or experience working with BLOOM?  

Over the years, I have heard numerous stories of transformation. Caregivers tell us, “I never thought my athlete was capable of moving in this way.” Or “I’ve never seen my athlete laugh like that.” And “My athlete has never wanted to exercise before Bloom and now they love it.” These stories are validation that we are on the right track and offering something to the people in our program that they cannot get elsewhere. I am just so grateful to be part of what Bloom is doing.

Through your partnership with Vuori, how do you feel this community helps to inspire or Invest in Happiness?  

Bloom provides our athletes with a sense of pride, belonging and of being loved. This happens through our thoughtful program of loving and fun classes, led by our team of inspiring and devoted instructors. Those feelings are deepened by Bloom’s goal system that honors our athletes for what they earn.

This is why Vuori’s contribution of shirts to our program is so important and meaningful. Our athletes are inspired and motivated by a rewards program that tracks their participation then they are rewarded at certain milestones. These milestones culminate in the receipt of a Vuori shirt in a very celebratory presentation after class. Bloom athletes earn their shirts, they are not given. These shirts matter to our athletes because they are a visual representation of what they’ve accomplished and that they are a part of something really cool. Sure, the exercise makes them healthier but the shirts truly make their lives happier, which is one of the most important parts of the program.

There’s really a cascade of happiness. Our instructors are happy and fulfilled leading a meaningful class, athletes are happy and having fun moving their bodies which trickles down to caregivers who are happy to see their athlete engaged and enjoying themselves while gaining health benefits too.

Finally, Bloom also offers opportunities for people from the general population to engage with people with IDD in a fun and easy setting in community yoga classes.

Is there anything else you would love for people to know about BLOOM?

The IDD population numbers 8 to 10 million. And that number is easily multiplied by four when considering caregivers – parents, guardians, extended family members and those taking care of people with IDD in agencies and organizations –  as well as those who engage with these individuals at their places of work. We are grateful for the opportunity to expose others to the IDD community. We are grateful to work with corporate partners like Vuori who really identify and are committed to the organization’s cause like we are. The Vuori shirts are a big part of our athlete’s success.

This article was originally published on Vuori’s Honored to Amplify Blog.