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New wellness center opens at Bethlen Communities

| Wednesday, May 7, 2014, 6:36 p.m.

When Cathy Graham battled breast cancer in 2008, her fellow Ligonier residents offered support — driving her to chemotherapy, cooking her meals and holding a fundraiser for Graham and her daughter.

“I felt like the cancer was second to what I received in learning about genuine people that really love and care,” said Graham, 52.

Now that she is cancer-free, Graham is ready to honor those who helped her through her journey.

Graceful Aging Wellness Center is a new facility at Bethlen Communities for people age 50 and up who are “actively aging” or living with mild to moderate disease. As the director, Graham, a certified fitness instructor, developed the wellness center's purpose with her passion for healthy living and desire to give back to the “baby boomer” community.

“As I was walking my dog one day, the whole idea was presented in my head; to live every single moment that they have as beautifully and vibrantly as possible,” she said. “For that, they need support.”

About 3½ years ago, Graham reached out to the Rev. Imre Bertalan to see if her idea would fit in at Bethlen Communities. From the beginning, Bertalan said he and the board of directors saw Graham's vision, faith and enthusiasm.

“Those three ingredients are a winning combination,” he said.

The center, made possible by donations and Bethlen Communities' own investment, is the latest in the retirement center's holistic approach to the aging process, Bertalan said.

“The spiritual, physical and mental aspects of health and care will be fortified and supported,” he said of the center.

At the core of the center's mission are the seven dimensions of wellness, a concept that originated from research done by the International Council on Active Aging, of which Graham is a member. Assessing and improving the physical, social, spiritual, intellectual, vocational, emotional and environmental aspects of one's life are key in achieving optimum wellness, according to Graham.

“It's a balance in life that helps us age well,” she said. “We're not about the decline of aging. We're about being more and aspiring to be the best that you can be.”

Classes and activities related to each dimension will be offered at the center, such as fitness classes for the physical dimension and computer classes for the intellectual dimension. Other planned activities include mixers for the social dimension, meditation for the spiritual dimension and networking with local organizations to share members' skills for the vocational dimension. Graham said some activities will combine two or more dimensions.

“They meld into each other,” she said.

To take advantage of the center's offerings, single memberships for people age 50 and up can be purchased for $35 per month, and couple memberships are $50 per month. There is also a $15 joining fee.

Upon joining the center, members will undergo three assessments, which will provide Graham and the staff a better idea of their health strengths and weaknesses.

“It helps us realize where people may need some growth or encouragement to live a well-rounded life,” she said.

The center includes a group fitness room, a gym complete with strength and cardiovascular machines, a learning center with computers, a “creative center,” “quiet room,” and a social room. In addition to Graham, there will be four other instructors at the center.

Melissa Marasia, 40, of Ligonier will teach yoga and group fitness classes. She is excited to get people who have never done fitness using the many machines at the center. She also looks forward to the creative arts classes that will be offered as part of the spiritual and intellectual dimensions.

“As baby boomers are continuing to stay healthy longer, I think it is important for them to continue to stay healthy but also honor where they are in each stage of life,” she said. “I think this place is really different from anything we have in the area.”

The center held its dedication ceremony on April 28, as well as an open house on Sunday. Eugenia Celaschi, 90, who lives at Bethlen Cottages, has trained with Graham for 10 years and is thrilled to use the “fabulous” new center, specifically the many machines in the fitness room. She said Graham “makes you want to exercise.”

“(Graham) is very personable and she gives you all her attention,” she said. “She can pick up just little things that you're not aware of where you need to be corrected, and she corrects in such a graceful way. It doesn't make you feel uncomfortable.”

Celaschi has been anxiously awaiting the center's opening.

“It's going to make everyone aware of what Bethlen Communities is, not only just the nursing home but what's available,” she said. “It's a dream come true really.”

Graham said if she had to go through her fight with cancer again to be able to open this wellness center, she would. “I've met so many fabulous people,” she said. “They're all putting a little bit of themselves into this. It's this wonderful network of people that keeps growing.”

For more information about the Graceful Aging Wellness Center at Bethlen Communities, call 724-238-2142.

Nicole Chynoweth is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-850-2862 or

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