Senior citizens flock to McCandless church for exercise classes
Even a broken back can't keep Anne Kolicius, 92, from her senior exercise class at St. John's Lutheran Church of Highland in McCandless.
In late September, Kolicius suffered a spinal fracture after falling in her kitchen. She is managing the pain with medication, and is eager to return to her exercise class.
“I may have to wait a couple of weeks, but I already miss the fellowship. Even if I have to just sit in a chair and watch the others exercise, that's OK with me. I can sit there and still laugh and smile,” said Kolicius, of Allison Park.
St. John's Lutheran Church of Highland has offered the hour-long exercise classes to senior citizens throughout the community for nine years. Partnering with Lutheran Service Society and Passavant Hospital Foundation, St. John's Lutheran Church is striving to build a more comprehensive senior community center program, using the success of its exercise program as its foundation.
The first step was offering healthy breakfasts and social opportunities for seniors at 8:45 a.m., prior to the exercise class held every Monday and Thursday beginning at 9:45 a.m.
The program, called Healthy Start Café, is free and open to anyone age 60 or above. Registration is required, and may be completed on site during the first visit.
Additional events, activities, and offerings are in the works.
“As baby boomers age, they don't want to come play bingo. Today's seniors are more active. We can start a golf group or a cycling group and reading groups. We want to offer a wide variety of physical and mental activities,” said Terry Mann, director of Lutheran Service Society.
William Diehm, pastor of St. John's Lutheran, is excited about expanding the program at his church.
“It has become a mission of sorts. Our mission here is ‘having fun while staying young,'” he said.
Dawn Andersson, 77, is the church's director of volunteer ministries. She also is a certified fitness trainer and co-leads the senior exercise class.
“We focus on flexibility, cardio, range of motion, and balance,” she said. “But the social aspect is the biggest draw. The exercise is almost secondary in a way. The program combines friendship and exercise. It's an unbeatable combination.”
Minutes before a recent exercise class began in the church's multi-purpose room, Marie Bosco, 69, of McCandless, walked into the adjacent kitchen and was handed a freshly blended “Fountain of Youth” smoothie made with cherries, blueberries, cranberries and a touch of honey.
“I love the friendly and outgoing spirit here. Everyone cares about everyone else. You can just come and be with friends. The program started with a few church members but now attracts people beyond our church walls,” she said.
About 20 to 30 seniors currently attend each class.
Carole Helvig, 68, of McCandless is a breast cancer survivor, and attends the exercise class with her husband, Chuck, 73.
“You come and do what you can do. We like the fellowship, which is as big a part of the program as the exercise,” she said.
Lutheran Service Society, an entity of Lutheran Senior Life and a nonprofit, faith-based provider of human services, manages two other senior community centers — one in Bellevue and another in Beaver County.
Both offer meals, classes and workshops, fitness programs, and other services such as flu shots, income tax assistance and safe-driving classes, often for free.
The Bellevue center has 600 registered members and serves 50 to 80 seniors daily; the Beaver County center, located in Beaver Valley Mall in Monaca, has 10,000 members and serves about 250 seniors every day, according to Mann, 62, of McCandless.
All three senior centers are funded by county agencies on aging, the Pennsylvania Lottery and community sponsors. Donations are accepted from participants.
The Healthy Start Cafe received additional funds from Passavant Hospital Foundation, a nonprofit organization in McCandless. Foundation money is being used to purchase food supplies, tables and blenders used for making the smoothies.
“We wanted to support the start-up effort to give it the opportunity to be rooted and grow. There is no other senior center in the immediate area, and we have a large senior population,” said Fay Morgan, president of Passavant Hospital Foundation.
“My vision for the senior community center at St. John's Lutheran Church is to have a center similar to a health and social mall, where seniors can come hang out, eat at the cafe, exercise in the gym, attend classes, and visit physicians like podiatrists and eye doctors during special hours,” said Mann. “It would be a one-stop shop for seniors.”
Laurie Rees is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.