Jared Ciner, 26, has always been passionate about helping others.
After attending the University of Maryland, where he studied psychology, he split his time between working at Jubilee, an organization that provides support for individuals with intellectual and other developmental disabilities, and working as a personal trainer.
But he was yearning to connect his passions and skills, and after discovering that people with developmental disabilities are significantly more likely to be obese than the general population, he set out to make a difference.
The JT caught up with Ciner at his exercise studio in Kensington (his Baltimore studio is scheduled to open in April) to talk about how he brought together the things he cares about most by starting SPIRIT Club, where there is “fitness for all.”
When did you get the idea for SPIRIT Club?
The idea for SPIRIT Club (Social-Physical-Interactive- Respectful-Inclusive-Teamwork) came to mind during the summer of 2011. I went to Ethiopia and volunteered a lot of my time at a school with children who were from really impoverished backgrounds. I took on a role in organizing fitness programs like soccer games, and playing with them was fun, but I realized it was very impactful on the kids to have organized exercise classes. I would see kids who were arguing and fighting, but once we started playing soccer, it would really transform how they were behaving and create a sense of teamwork.
How did you bring your idea to fruition?
When I graduated from college I got a job at Jubilee working with adults who have developmental disabilities. I also got certified as a personal trainer and started working at a gym. But I realized people with disabilities were looking for more social outlets. Yet, when I was working at the gym I didn’t see anyone with disabilities. I suggested to Jubilee and the gym I worked at that we offer a fitness program for people with disabilities. It was well received by both parties, so we started teaching classes for Jubilee clients at the gym. Soon after the program started, SPIRIT Club developed as an independent organization that focuses on teaching fitness classes to all people including people with disabilities.
What motivates you?
It’s gratifying to help people be more successful in their lives, and as a personal trainer at a typical gym, I got that satisfaction but not to the same extent as working with people who didn’t have other options. At a typical gym, people can pick from 50 other gyms on the street. But people who have disabilities that prevent them from participating in those programs don’t really have any other options.
Are there others who work with you?
When I suggested the idea of offering a program for Jubilee clients, I was connected to Sam, who is super passionate about fitness. Sam’s input, as a person with autism, was extremely helpful in coming up with ideas that would engage other people who have developmental disabilities. And his energy in the program really encouraged other people to get excited and motivated them to be a part of it. They could see, through Sam, the potential that they may have if they are interested in the fitness industry to be an instructor one day.
What’s the SPIRIT Club Foundation?
[The Foundation] raises money to provide resources to people with disabilities who are trying to be more active and healthy. One of the main things they provide is scholarships to people with disabilities of low income so they can participate in these programs. The Good People Fund was generous enough to be our first donor and gave us $5,000.
My wife, Gabriele Ciner, is a special education teacher. She is the brains behind the big decisions that go on here. She realized the necessity of starting a foundation so she deserves a lot of the credit for SPIRIT Club’s success.
Your dog seems at home in the studio; is he involved in the program?
We’d like to make Griff a certified therapy dog. A lot of people with developmental disabilities have issues with things like depression, and SPIRIT Club is a place that is all about positive energy. We’d like Griff to be an official contributor to that by providing animal therapy to people who need that extra love and attention.