DOROT Wellness Program Turns 20

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DOROT Program Enhances Health and Provides Opportunities for Socializing and Connecting

At Mr. Gu's class

The program encompasses “a rich and ever-changing menu of offerings,” says DOROT’s Executive Director Mark L. Meridy

Ranging in age from 68-99, the participants in DOROT’s Wellness Program are happy to be celebrating 20 years of classes at DOROT. The program provides specially designed exercise and health-related classes for older adults and offers participants living with chronic illness or limited mobility, a range of stimulating activities.

The Wellness Program, the brainchild of DOROT’s Director of Health and Nutrition Services Karen Fuller, began in 1994 as a study of falls risk and prevention among seniors. Fuller was inspired by Strong Women Stay Young, a seminal book about the benefits of weight training for older women, and implemented a program geared to improving balance as well as physical and emotional well-being. Many of the classes offered in Wellness’ early years, such as tai chi, qigong, Reiki, and meditation, were “out of the box” at the time, but are now considered mainstream. In the two decades since its inception, DOROT’s Wellness Program has enhanced the lives of thousands of older adults in myriad ways.

Program participants can generally choose from five or six exercise classes and four or five wellness classes on a given week. To facilitate participation, DOROT keeps class fees nominal and is generous with scholarships. The program encompasses “a rich and ever-changing menu of offerings,” says DOROT’s Executive Director Mark L. Meridy, and has netted “resoundingly positive results for seniors’ physical and mental health.” The varied course selection has included Gyrokinetics, Salsa Aerobics, Weight Training, Mindfulness-Based Meditation, Brain Gym, Herbology, and Laughter Yoga.

The health benefits conferred by the program have been profound. Participants in tai chi classes, one of the longest-running components of Wellness’ exercise program, have reported enhanced flexibility, energy, stamina, strength, balance, and posture. Quite a few have found that previously intractable health problems, such as joint or back pain, were ameliorated. Trudy, a Holocaust survivor, suffered from chronic knee pain before joining the program eight years ago. Neither injections nor pills had alleviated the pain, Trudy explains, but the tai chi instructor’s “method worked” and her knee hasn’t bothered her in years. Another participant commented that since joining the program, “I feel relaxed, more confident, and healthier, and I sleep better.”

Wellness has evolved over the years to meet changing needs and interests. “We consistently solicit and utilize feedback,” says Fuller. When a number of clients had upcoming surgeries, pre-surgery ‘heal faster’ classes were offered.

Benefits of the Wellness Program are by no means limited to enhanced physical health. Participation also provides a wonderful, and often much needed, opportunity for socializing and connecting with others. Bernie Waxelbaum, a Wellness participant for almost 15 years, formed a number of friendships while attending the program and recalls that, when he was hospitalized, “DOROT staff visited and called me every week.” Bernie added that his nephews and nieces do not live nearby and “DOROT is my chosen family.” Another participant stressed “how deeply important the total experience of participating, connecting, belonging is, and how critical it is to me that I have this place to belong to.” Many Wellness participants also become DOROT volunteers and form intergenerational friendships with fellow volunteers.

“As we celebrate the successes of this invaluable program’s first 20 years, we look forward to what the next 20 will bring,” says Meridy. To learn more about DOROT’s Wellness Program, contact Karen Fuller at 212-769-2850 or check out the Wellness calendar at http://www.dorotusa.org

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Audrey Stein
DOROT
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