Arc of Loudoun Opens Expanded Ability Fitness Center

Arc of Loudoun Opens Expanded Ability Fitness Center

Arc of Loudoun has had a busy April, opening its greatly expanded Ability Fitness Center, accepting the resignation of its executive director and celebrating a milestone with its 50th Anniversary Gala.

Arc of Loudoun is a non-profit organization that oversees a handful of programs for children with disabilities and their families on the Paxton Manor campus.

ALLY – A Life Like Yours – counsels and advocates for families of people with disabilities. ALLY programs are the main part – in most cases the only offering – at the 700 Arc affiliates around the nation.

Aurora School provides one-on-one educational opportunities for children with pronounced disabilities, such as Autism. The schools has students that have referred from Loudoun County Public Schools and several other Northern Virginia districts.

The Aurora Behavior Clinic provides individualized therapeutic options for children with autism and other related disabilities that are not enrolled full-time in Aurora School. The clinic utilizes specialized curriculum focused on verbal behavior and increasing social interactions.

The Open Door Learning Center is a preschool/kindergarten program that integrates children with and without disabilities.

Ability Fitness Center — the newest program – is a therapeutic fitness and wellness center for people with neurological and developmental disabilities, particularly those recovering from a stroke, Traumatic Brain Injury (concussions) and spinal cord injuries.

AFC opened in 2017, but quickly outgrew it facilities. The center moved into the Williamson Cottage on the Paxton campus earlier this year and a grand opening event and open house were held April 10 in the new building.

“Having a larger space allows us to have six more clients here at a time exercising and more room for specialized equipment,” said Helen Parker, clinical director of AFC and neurological physical therapist. “The new building is also beneficial since it offers an amazing atmosphere that is both welcoming and supportive of all our clients’ goals of becoming healthier and stronger.”

The vision for AFC started about five years ago.

“When I had my accident 6 1/2 years ago, I was lucky enough to attend some of the better rehab centers,” said Freddie Hetzel, a founding board member of AFC. “I learned very quickly that for me to receive any exercise, I would either need to hire a physical therapist to work in my home or travel over an hour each way to a rehab center.”

According to Parker, people with neurological injuries or diagnoses usually take longer to recover than people in need of physical therapy. In many cases, insurance coverage expires before the neurological patient is fully recovered. Ability Fitness Center can help bridge that gap.

“At Ability Fitness Center, we have specialized equipment, expert therapists, knowledge of their diagnoses, and most importantly we are able to offer support both physically and emotionally,” Parker said. “We are creating a space where clients can work out together and support each other through their journeys of accomplishments and challenges,” says Parker.

The expanded facility will enable AFC to increase the number of clients it can serve, and the children in Aurora School can also utilize the larger building.

“The goal is to continue to grow to reach more people in our community that can benefit from our center,” Parker said. “We also want to grow by adding support groups and group classes along with the individual exercise times.”

For more information, visit, email or call 703-777-1939, extension 106.

On April 4, Arc of Loudoun announced the resignation of Executve Director Melissa Heifetz, who resigned effective April 20 to serve as the executive director of her family synagogue, Congregation Beth Emeth in Herndon. Chief Operations Officer YaTonya Abdullah, will assume the duties of the executive director on an interim basis until a permanent replacement is hired.

Heifetz has been with Arc of Loudoun since 2014, previously serving as the administrative director of ALLY.

“Under Melissa’s exceptional leadership, the Arc has grown and our programs expanded to support even more individuals with disabilities,” said George Pellicano, president of Arc of Loudoun’s board of directors. “We wish her the best of luck in the future.”

On April 21, Arc of Loudoun marked an incredible milestone with its 50th Anniversary Celebration Gala at Landsdowne Resort and Spa. Leon Harris of NBC News4 was the master of ceremonies.

For more information about Arc of Loudoun programs or to contribute, visit

Joseph Dill