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Health

AllenForce helps veterans, families feel inclusive despite barriers

PLAINFIELD – A Plainfield-based organization has one mission for veterans: to promote fitness as well as a healthy and successful lifestyle.

The nonprofit AllenForce is run by Donna Allen-Sebok, who named the organization after her late father who served. She said it grew through her work in the veterans community, and seeing a need for programs.

“I heard a lot of stories like ‘I wish something like this was available’ or ‘I would have love to be able to do this.’ Out of those musings they shared we started developing activities to do and then programs developed,” Allen-Sebok said.

AllenForce has been growing over the past five years since its founding. The first program was for veterans who had been injured or have a chronic illness, and it’s still running today

Called the Healthy Minds Healthy Bodies program, the veterans worked to build physical strength with a physical trainer, whom Allen-Sebok likens to a “battle buddy.”

Allen-Sebok said female veterans wanted a similar program for them. So AllenForce developed the SheForce program for female veterans and any woman impacted by the military. This includes spouses and family.

Bridget Lattanzi started as an intern with AllenForce as a student of the College of DuPage. As a National Guard veteran who had been deployed to Iraq for a year, Lattanzi became involved with SheForce.

Lattanzi said families of service members can become isolated and unable to participate in organizations with their loved ones because they are not veterans themselves.

“The programs and events brings people together,” Lattanzi said. “Veterans, especially disabled veterans, don’t have resources for some things. There’s things veterans can’t do because they can’t do all the walking.”

AllenForce also has a vet tank and program that lends out adaptive equipment veterans can take into nature or other places they normally cannot go if they have physical limitations.

AllenForce also has a recreation program that takes veterans to places such as nature retreat or the Oswego traveling Vietnam wall.

Veteran Keith Aguina has been with AllenForce for five years. He has benefited from the Vet Rec as well as the Healthy Minds Healthy Bodies program, both of which helped give him a new outlook on life through the mobility the chairs and trainers provide, Aguina said.

Vet Rec brings veterans and families together for sports and other recreational adventures.

Aguina said that the trainers in the Healthy Minds Healthy Bodies program are trained to deal with all disabilities and to increase the sensitivity of others working out with the veterans.

“I use a wheelchair and a lot of places don’t accommodate,” Aguina said. “But the trainer becomes creative in how to deal with disabilities. It gives people in the program a more inclusive and healthy workout.”

Aguina said the veterans make others aware of the physical and hidden disabilities, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, which many veterans suffer.

Allen-Sebok said that people are modeling AllenForce programs in other communities.

“We have models that are replaceable and the ultimate dream is the see chapters in other states,” Allen-Sebok said.

AllenForce runs a lot of events both with the veterans and with the public, which Allen-Sebok said will be difficult since their truck that pulls all of their equipment and vet tanks is having mechanical issues totaling over $7,000. However, she is working on fundraising efforts to get it up and running soon.

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IF YOU GO:

WHAT: Veterans Charity Ride

WHEN: Aug. 12 Registration is 9:30 a.m. Bikes leave 10:30 a.m.

WHERE: Judd Kendall Post #3873, 908 W. Jackson Ave., Naperville

ETC: Registration includes lunch and T-shirt

COST: $30 a rider, $20 a passenger. Proceeds benefit veterans and their families.

INFORMATION: Visit AllenForce.org.

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