The Leisure Lifestyle Center: “Its been awesome for me” – Therapeutic Recreation

Patricia S. Ardovino

The mission of the LLC is to improve the independence, socialization and community integration of individuals with disabilities.

Mark, a 29-year-old male who experienced a traumatic brain injury from a motorcycle accident, has been involved with the Leisure Lifestyle Center for several months. When he first entered the program, Mark had shared no social contact with members outside of his family since the accident 10 years ago. He was displaying inappropriate social behaviors, poor short-term memory skills and added little to family conversations.

Since beginning involvement with the Leisure Lifestyle Center, Mark’s short-term memory has improved, he has displayed appropriate social skills when meeting people and talks up a storm. Mark’s mother says, “The program has stimulated him in a way I haven’t seen since before the accident. It helps him get involved with the family and feel more important. I can see more and more of his personality coming out.” Mark has this to say about the program, “It’s been awesome for me!”

It was the belief of therapeutic recreation faculty at University of Wisconsin-La Crosse that developing a quality leisure lifestyle program for people with disabilities could be fulfilled through the unique calling of therapeutic recreation. A grant was submitted to the U.S. Department of Education to design, implement and evaluate a model leisure lifestyle center at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse (UWL). Funds were received in 1997, and the UWL Leisure Lifestyle Center (LLC) was born. The LLC continues to provide leisure services to individuals with disabilities in the city of La Crosse and the surrounding rural areas in Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa.

The mission of the LLC is to improve the independence, socialization and community integration of individuals with disabilities. In order to fulfill this mission, the LLC focuses on four program components: (1) provide comprehensive individualized leisure assessments to individuals with disabilities; (2) provide individuals with disabilities individualized leisure education/guidance services; (3)provide group leisure education and recreation programs designed to increase social skills and socialization opportunities with peers without disabilities; and (4) provide professional development and information dissemination opportunities related to the LLC.

Many participants in the LLC programs have severe or moderate disabilities. Their diagnoses include mental retardation, mental illness, chemical dependency, spinal cord injury, traumatic brain injury, chronic pain, visual impairment, hearing impairment, stroke and learning disability. Participants without disabilities are seeking guidance for other leisure related problems, such as time management, stress management and inadequate social supports. The majority of participants are females over 18 with very limited incomes. Referrals are made to the LLC by a variety of agencies including hospitals, area group homes, assisted living complexes, La Crosse Special Olympics and the local park and recreation department. Psychotherapists, vocational rehabilitation counselors, social workers and therapeutic and community recreation specialists are active referral sources as well.

The success of the LLC depends on the expertise of its staff. During the three-year grant period, all LLC programs were conducted by a coordinator and a cadre of leisure educators, leisure coaches and leisure peer partners. Therapeutic recreation graduate students and advanced undergraduate therapeutic recreation students were trained as leisure educators, serving as “case managers.” Their role is focused on conducting individualized leisure assessments; formulating a Individualized Leisure Plan (ILP) with the participant, consulting with participants regarding strategies to achieve their leisure goals and providing one-on-one leisure education and counseling. Many leisure educators also serve as leisure coaches, providing instruction and support in social and leisure skill development, and helping participants problem solve issues they face in the community. Participants who need leisure peer partners have appropriate social and leisure activities skills, but lacked the motivation or courage to attend community activities alone. Leisure peer partners provide the security participants desired as new community leisure resources were explored.

During the grant period, each program component demonstrated enormous success. A total of 20 different individualized leisure related assessments were reviewed and three new leisure related assessments were developed based on State Technical Institute’s Leisure Assessment Process (STILAP) competencies. The Pictorial Leisure Activity Assessment (PLAA) was developed to assess clients with cognitive impairments who were nonverbal; TeenLap, a leisure assessment process, focused on leisure patters of adolescents; and STILAP-Revised was updated to reflect contemporary leisure activities. Although therapeutic recreation students were trained to use many of these assessments, they came to believe that no one assessment fits all; a battery of assessments is needed.

A total of 86 individuals received multiple sessions of individualized leisure education/guidance services. The purpose of these services was to provide ongoing guidance, encouragement, support and education to enable the successful participation in and completion of an individualized leisure plan. Participants identified leisure related goals, and worked with a leisure educator over several weeks to accomplish these goals. Some participants received weekly services for a short period of time (e.g., four weeks), while others received leisure guidance services for a longer period of time (e.g., 24 weeks). The nature of the leisure goal and the interest of the participant determined the duration of the services.

A total of 243 individuals were involved in Group Leisure Education and Recreation Programs. The purpose of these programs was to provide recreation and social skill development, and opportunities for social interaction and leisure expression. Group Leisure Education Programs were implemented at the La Crosse County Juvenile Detention Center, and the Family and Children’s Residential Treatment Center. Two Group Leisure Education Programs implemented in the LLC were significant for their popularity and success. The “Friendship Group” was an eight-week program designed for individuals with developmental disabilities. The goals of this group were to increase knowledge needed to develop interpersonal relationships, overcome barriers related to personal relationships and to use social leisure resources in the community. Participants were taught how basic relationship skills can help with the complexities involved in a friendship. The “Women of Wonder” (WOW) group provided services to women dealing with depression. These women need a social support network to manage symptoms of depression and an opportunity to try new leisure activities. Most of all, these women need to have fun.

An example of participation in a Group Recreation Program included “Arts for All,” a commercial inclusive arts program implemented in cooperation with the regional special education district (CESA #4). Other Group Recreation Programs addressed specific leisure skills such as rock climbing, photography and biking.

Professional presentations and workshops were made to state and national associations’ conferences. On the local level, both print and web versions of the La Crosse Community Resource Guide are available to individuals and agencies. Several staff members refer this guide when encouraging their clients to become more active in the community leisure events.

The federally funded portion of the LLC officially ended in 2000; however the LLC continues to operate on a smaller scale. Graduate students and advanced undergraduate students continue their roles as leisure educators, leisure coaches and leisure peer partners. Community referrals continue to be received and the LLC continues to receive “awesome” reviews from participants.

The concept of a leisure lifestyle center implies that therapeutic recreation and recreation management professionals could do things differently. While many community recreation programmers address inclusion of people with disabilities, getting prospective participants ready for inclusion should also be a focus. A program like the LCC helps bridge the gap between segregated and inclusive recreation programs by preparing participants with skills for independence, socialization and inclusion. This leisure education function is an important challenge for both therapeutic recreation and community recreation staff. As we help persons with disabilities increase the quality of their own lives — through leisure education — the quality of life in the community is enriched.

The Leisure Lifestyle Center was originally funded by the US Department of Education, Special Recreation Programs for Individuals with Disabilities (H 128 & 700002) The authors would like to acknowledge the work of the following UWL graduate and undergraduate students for their considerable contributions to the success of the LLC: Blair Bergner [PLAA]; Jodi Charters; Leslie De Vries; Rebecca Lyons [Friendship Group]; Brenda Parrish; Terri Phoenix [LLC Internship Manual]; Janet Prvu [Project TRAIN]; Sara Peterson and Gwen Gates [LLC Policy Manual], and Erica Simpson. The authors also wish to acknowledge Mr. Mark Dyer [“Arts for All”], and Dr. Robin Yaffee-Tsehumper, original co-director of the project.

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Patricia Ardovino, Department of Recreation Management and Therapeutic Recreation, University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, La Crosse, Wisconsin 54601. Electronic mail may be sent via Internet to

LLC Program Components


* Participants will receive a battery of assessments appropriate to their age, abilities and expressed interest

* Written, verbal, observational diary and computer assessments will be available

* Content areas that are addressed in the assessment process are: leisure participation patterns; leisure constraints; leisure attitudes, motivations, values; and leisure resources/partners

* The Leisure Educators and the participants will agree on an Individualized Leisure Plan (ILP)


* Participants will meet regularly with a Leisure Educator

* Leisure Coaches or Leisure Peer Partners will help participants needing extra assistance in experimenting with new recreation activities

* Leisure Educators monitor the participant’s progress, satisfaction and changing needs and adjust the ILP accordingly

* Leisure Educators supervise and monitor Leisure Coaches or Leisure Peer Partners


* Leisure Education program areas are: knowledge of leisure; self awareness in leisure; leisure decision-making; leisure resources; social skills

* Social skill improvement programs focus on social recreation, experiential education and outdoor recreation

* Recreation skill development programs include fitness activities, expressive arts, spectator and appreciation skills, home and family recreation, stress management and relaxation skills

* 1, 2, or 3 hour sessions are conducted

* TR students enrolled in Leisure Education and Leisure Counseling courses are responsible for implementing group participation programs

* Professionals will have the opportunity to observe the implementation of both the Individualized Leisure Assessment sessions and the Individualized Leisure Education/ Guidance sessions

* Some sessions will be videotaped for further use in clinical supervision session

* Information will be disseminated via conference presentations, workshops, in-services, etc.

Tom’s Story

Many clients come to the LLC needing one-on-one assistance in meeting leisure goals. One such individual was Tom, a 51-year-old male who acquired a brain injury in 1992. Tom sought LLC services on his own after attending a brain injury support meeting about leisure activities. Tom, who previously had never received therapeutic recreation services, was very motivated in obtaining a social life and something to do in his free time. Over a period of a year and a half, LLC Leisure Educators worked with Tom on conversation skills and exploring community resources such as fitness programs, art classes and volunteer opportunities. After his discharge from the LLC, Tom wrote to Bridget Todd: “Thank you … Working with your group has helped me set goals and organize myself. When I first started with you I felt useless: Now at least I know I have something to work with and can begin to plan my future.”

Patricia Ardovino, Ph.D., CTRS, is assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin-LaCrosse. Her research interests include therapeutic recreation, recreation management, corrections and Americans with Disabilities Act. Nancy Navar, Ph.D, CTRS, is professor at the University of Wisconsin-LaCrosse with interests including therapeutic recreation and women’s issues in leisure. Bridget Todd, MS, CTRS, is the Leisure Lifestyle Center Coordinator. She brings experience in researching leisure education, childhood trauma, therapeutic recreation and corrections to her position. Check out “Leisure Lifestyle Center: “Its Been Awesome for Me!” on page 40.

COPYRIGHT 2002 National Recreation and Park Association

COPYRIGHT 2002 Gale Group

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