Originally published Aug. 19, 2018 by Eyewitness News ABC7 New York.
By Talia Chiariello
What started out as a class assignment for Chris Speziali turned into a career.
17 years ago Chris was studying for his masters in special education and he had an assignment to teach a special needs child an activity in ten hours.
Speziali taught a child in Roslyn how to jump rope and from there, his love for these children blossomed.
The so called “jump rope” child’s parents then asked Chris to teach other exercise activities to their kid and he did.
Other parents of special needs children in the area began hearing about what Chris did, and before he knew it he was teaching three to four kids sports skills around twice a week.
He began renting spaces to teach his class and word of what he was doing spread like wildfire across the special needs community.
Now Speziali rents space from Retro Fitness in Glen Cove and teaches physical education classes for kids with disabilities 7 days a week. He calls his program PowerPals. The program works with all children, but about 90 percent of them are with disabilities.
The classes that he offers are centered on agility and strength. One of the parents, Maritza Garcia, travels all the way from Bayside, Queens to have her two children with autism attend PowerPals.
She believes that the classes allow her children to have “body awareness.” Garcia believes that most children with autism are unaware of their physical capabilities, and that the class has offered her children not only stamina, but coordination.
Additionally, Chris has classes geared towards sports training and bike riding for these children. He says that he loves “seeing the kids progress, being more confident, social and having parents tell me how much better their kids are doing!”
Lisa Klein, President of the Farmingdale Special Education Parent Teacher Association, couldn’t agree more. Her son has been going to PowerPals for two years. “It’s given him (her son) confidence when he’s with typical kids. He will try to throw a basketball or bat a ball; things he wouldn’t even have tried before he’s started the program,” she said.
PowerPals does not just offer the children a sense of physical accomplishment, but an experience.
17 years ago, it was one kid learning different exercises. Now it is a community of daily classes full of smiling children.
Garcia said that the class also has an emotional engagement for the children. “They learn how to interact with people…understands sharing, friendship, and (it’s) something (for them) to look towards,” she said.
Furthermore, Chris has instilled a sense of discipline within these kids. A community habilitation specialist for one of the students, Victoria Romero says that the child she works with has learned so much only from the year and a half at PowerPals.
He has learned how to take direction, listen and fully understand “emotional and social cues,” she said, adding that Speziali teaches the children acceptable behavior and helps them become mature and respectful kids.
One of his previous students, Joey Cavanaugh, has been with Chris for around eight years and has fully come into his own. Now he even works for him, and they constantly joke around with each other when dealing with the little kids. It has become a father and son relationship.
Now that he works for Chris, Joey appreciates that he gave him the opportunity to do something on the weekends.
Even while pursuing his college degree, Joey will still come in on the weekends to work for Speziali. Joey is the testament of what Chris strives for the minute he has a new student.
It’s almost as if it becomes a recruiting process for Chris, especially at Retro Fitness. One personal trainer in the gym, Jeff Tag took notice of what Chris was doing and now has worked with him for two years.
He was unsure of what to expect, but now he says that it gave him “a world perspective on the special needs community.” That’s what PowerPals is. a community, not just an exercise class.
It gives everyone involved, parents, kids and trainers the opportunity to connect and offer help to benefit the lives of others. Word of mouth traveled so fast and has now reached so many. and will continue to do so in the future.