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Photo caption: Connie Lewis, People First member and co-facilitator for the 14 Weeks to a Healthier You program in Missoula, Montana, grows healthy food in her community garden. Photo courtesy of Steven Begleiter Photography.

It's All About Healthy Eating and Exercise

by Connie Lewis

Hi! My name is Connie Lewis. I am an Administrative Assistant with the University of Montana Rural Institute for Inclusive Communities. I answer phones, run photocopiers and fax machine, and make sure we have supplies if we need them. Those are just some things I do.

Also, I am the secretary for Missoula Valley People First Chapter and for the Home Owners Association Board for the condos where I live. So for these two organizations, I write the minutes. My hobbies are reading, sewing by hand, gardening, crochet, and cooking in the kitchen at home and at my church that I attend. I’ve been in TOPS (Taking Off Pounds Sensibly) for several years because I need to improve my own health with better eating habits and exercise.

This year the Montana Disability and Health Program is doing a program called 14 Weeks to a Healthier You. The organizing committee decided to have a People First member co-facilitate the class. Because of my organization skills and my knowledge from attending TOPS meetings, I was recruited to help Andrea Dahl facilitate these meetings. I had to start by attending a couple of planning meetings of the organizing committee and a full day of facilitator training. Our job was to review the program and give recommendations on what changes we needed to make in the program. We also suggested some incentives that we could give out when people accomplished a goal. I thought if people accomplished something from doing this class, they should get an incentive. That’s why I suggested incentives like passes to the Y and local gyms and pools.

Photo caption: Connie Lewis (right), People First member and staffer at the University of Montana Rural Institute for Inclusive Communities, is joined in the community garden by Andrea Dahl. They co-facilitate the 14 Weeks to a Healthier You program in Missoula.

We started our weekly meetings in July. We had them on Mondays from 4:00 until 5:00 p.m. Every Friday Andrea and I coordinated what we would talk about in the meetings, and I reminded people about our meetings by giving a call to them on Saturday or Sunday.

I want to help people learn about ways to be healthier. When you do the 14 Weeks program, you can do exercises sitting in a chair or standing up. There are low, moderate, and intense exercises to do. You do what fits for you. You learn not to overdo it and start out slow and work up the intensity of your exercise routine. For example, if you are not a usual walker start with 10 minutes a day and work up. From the class, I learned that drinking water helps all your organs work. I’ve been trying to drink more water. Water is always healthier than soda pop. You gain weight with soda pop. A healthy amount of water is eight glasses (8 ounces) a day.

This program will help people to be better at making healthier choices. They can lose weight. Weight gain can cause a lot of problems. When you have more weight on your body, it can make it harder to walk, tie your shoes or even go up and down stairs. The more health problems you have going on in your life, the more you could decrease your lifespan. I think if people improve their health, their lives would be longer and better.

Contributed by Connie Lewis, University of Montana Rural Institute for Inclusive Communities, Missoula. She may be reached at or 406/243-4620.



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Citation: Traci, M., Hsieh, K., Anderson, L., & Gaylord, V. (Eds.). (Winter 2016). Impact: Feature issue on supporting wellness for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities, 29(1). [Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, Institute on Community Integration and Research and Training Center on Community Living]. Retrieved from

The PDF version of this Impact, with photos and graphics, is also online at

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