WESTBROOK – Chad Rudge swims like a fish, according to Billy Hilton, program coordinator for the Expeditions program at the Fred C. Westcott Community Center.

Rudge also likes to play basketball, baseball, work in the garden and take walks to feed the ducks along Riverbank Park.

Rudge and two others are participating in the new Expeditions program, which helps mentally handicapped people lose weight and lead healthier lifestyles by presenting exercise and food in fun ways, instead of making the changes feel like a lot of work.

Thousands of Americans try to lose weight by changing their diet and exercise routine. Those with mental handicaps have an even harder time accomplishing those goals, said Hilton, because of their lifestyles, medications and financial situations.

“The majority of them, the only exercise they get is when they walk around, not going on daily walks or anything, but just actually walking around,” said Hilton. “Historically, they don’t get out of the house much and they don’t have a lot of money. Many are living on fixed incomes and eat the cheapest food. A lot of the medications they’re on increase appetite and lead to weight gain. It’s definitely a cycle apparent to this demographic and we’re trying to break all the things that feed into it.”

Hilton designed the five-day-a-week Expeditions program after working as Rudge’s residential caretaker and watching his dramatic weight loss and new zest for life after Hilton encouraged the 22-year-old to play basketball with him and eat better.

“He was on the fast track to diabetes and obesity,” said Hilton.

After a year, Rudge lost 30 pounds.

Now, Hilton has three clients in the Expeditions program, funded through MaineCare. He said four more have signed up and are waiting for MaineCare approval.

Hilton takes the group on mini-adventures nearly once a week to different beaches to practice their swimming, and walk at new outdoor trails and parks. Last week, Rudge and Hilton went ice skating.

It’s not just exercise; Hilton is also teaching how to eat better. Each day, a fruit snack like pineapples, apples and raisins are served, something Rudge didn’t think he was a fan of until recently.

“I didn’t like to eat raisins. I do have more energy when I eat an apple than a doughnut. Billy taught me to put water into my juice before I drink it. I drink more water now,” Rudge said.

Chad Rudge, 22, paints birdhouses with Expeditions program director Billy Hilton in the Fred C. Westcott Community Center classroom Monday morning as part of the program’s goal to find ways to keep people active.

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