Go For The Gold

Blair Senior Services, Inc. Welcomes the 2020 Blair County Senior Olympics

Have you been daydreaming of those warmer, summer days? Enhance the beginning of your summer by participating in Blair County’s 2020 Senior Olympics, hosted by Blair Senior Services, Inc.! For almost 20 years, Blair Senior Services, Inc. has helped Blair County’s older adults, age 50 and older, play the games they’ve grown up with: tennis, bowling, horseshoes, football, basketball, golf, and more. Even those who don’t possess the same mobility as before can participate in Wii Sports, such as Wii Bowling, or play an intellectual game, like crossword puzzles, trivia, word searches, Sudoku, and more. There’s truly something for everyone at the Senior Olympics!

“We really try to have a great variety of activities for all interests and ability levels,” shared Chelsey Rhodes, Home Delivered Meals Program Supervisor who oversees the Senior Olympics. “It’s really nice to see everyone being able to participate and have a great time.”

Photo courtesy of Chelsey Rhodes, Home Delivered Meals Program Supervisor at Blair Senior Services, Inc. | Participants from the 2019 Blair County Senior Olympics participate competitively in the games.

Last year, around 220 athletes competed in the 2019 Senior Olympics, with more than 20 different chairpersons. This competition held 31 sport, leisure and field events in June 2019, with some of the most popular events being bowling, intellectual games, and track and field. Over the past 20 years, thousands of older adult athletes have participated in the Blair County Senior Olympics. Jim Edwards, who has participated in the Senior Olympics for the past 15 years and is featured on the cover of this magazine, has enjoyed the many benefits of the games. “I exercise all year long to get my muscles loosened up and conditioned for the games, then when it comes time, I say ‘okay body, I’ve trained you, let’s show them what we got!’” shared Jim, who will be 91 years old when the 2020 Senior Olympics take place.

“I love the Senior Olympics because it drives me to stay healthy throughout the year. I exercise every week, Monday through Saturday. I love to stay active,” Jim explained. He also has a very technical way to keep track of his progress in the games and how his body is responding. “Each year, I keep track of my times, statistics and results so I can see how my body is performing. Overall, the Senior Olympics isn’t about the medals or winning for me… the icing on the cake is staying active and seeing how much older I have not grown!”

Participants of the Blair County Senior Olympics can also go on to compete in the Pennsylvania State Games. “The Pennsylvania State Games is statewide, anyone can participate and is eligible,” Chelsey explained. “Initially, we started by mimicking the Pennsylvania Senior Games, then as the years progressed, we added more games that may not be included at the state level, but interests some of the local participants to get them even more engaged. Since the Pennsylvania State Games are typically held in the eastern part of Pennsylvania, it can be a far drive for some. So we like to bring part of their games to Blair County to give our participants the same experience.”

The Blair County Senior Olympics would not be the same without the dedicated staff and volunteers. The Blair County Senior Olympics’ Committee, along with staff from Blair Senior Services, Inc., fill leadership roles and organize the entire three to four-week event. The Committee is comprised of members who are chairpersons for an assigned event, or in some cases, several events. “Most events will have one chairperson unless there are males and females participating. Some events will have assistants that will help the chairperson, if needed,” explained Chelsey. The chairperson is often selected for their experience and expertise with their events and is very involved in the planning process. Volunteering for the Senior Olympics doesn’t have to be chairing an event. You can find Senior Olympics volunteers assisting in an array of different ways: keeping time, recording scores, assisting with equipment, and much more.

“Our volunteers are so special,” Chelsey shared. “They help us so much. If we have someone who would like to volunteer, we find them a great position that fits well with their abilities and interests. You can help keep time or score at your favorite event, welcome participants into the event by manning tables, and much more. We want them to have fun while still being involved and participating.”

Bert Lear, a participant and Chairperson for regular golf and miniature golf, has attended and participated in the Senior Olympics since 2012. She has had much personal success since starting the Senior Olympics while also enjoying her volunteering experience. “Since I started, I’ve probably gotten 40-50 different medals, but I mostly enjoy assisting with the different events and just the people,” she explained. “You meet so many nice people! You’re always cheering for them, and they’re always cheering for you, and the first thing you know is that you’ve made so many great new friends.” Bert, who is in the 86-90 age group, says she really enjoys how the Senior Olympic games are molded to different age groups. “There’s something for everyone. If you like to sit down and do puzzles, we have that. If you like to throw a basketball, we have that. If you want to run, we have that too. Whatever you like to do, there’s something here for you!”

The Senior Olympics have helped Bert in more ways than one. “The Senior Olympics has really helped me year-round, even if they only happen one time a year. I try to stay in shape all year so I can keep doing these kinds of activities and do as many as I can. It’s something to look forward to every year which is great.” She also began attending one of the Senior Centers through Blair Senior Services, Inc. after attending the Senior Olympics. “I wanted to continue exercising and staying active, as well as getting the socialization, and the Senior Olympics really opened my mind to going to the Senior Center.” Bert also now serves on a few councils for Blair Senior Services, Inc. “I don’t think I would’ve gotten so involved with all of these different activities if it weren’t for the Senior Olympics.”

Along with all of the volunteers, the Blair County Senior Olympics wouldn’t be the same without the support of the Blair County community, including businesses, organizations, and individuals who help to make the Senior Olympics happen year after year.

“We have different levels of sponsorship that we request. Local agencies are welcome to sponsor, even partnerships with local gyms and activity centers where we can host some of our events. We’re looking for everything, from monetary donations to gifts, trinkets, door prizes, and more,” said Chelsey. “It’s partnerships and sponsorships that make the games so special and it’s always a great help.”

For more information on the Blair County Senior Olympics, or how you can be a sponsor or volunteer, please contact Chelsey Rhodes at (814) 946-1235 or by email at crhodes@blairsenior.org.

Tai Chi for Health: Meditation in Motion

Movements with names referring to nature, such as “Waving Hands in the Clouds” and “Push the Mountain” … Music that evokes feelings of calmness and clarity … Repetition that builds inner strength, trains balance, and promotes mindfulness of movement and surroundings … Welcome to Tai Chi for Health offered by Blair Senior Services, Inc.! Tai Chi for Health is an evidence-based program developed by Dr. Paul Lam, who is a family physician, a Tai Chi practitioner and teacher of over 40 years, and a world leader in the field of Tai Chi for Health improvement. It’s one of the many programs offered by Blair Senior Services, Inc. to help individuals over the age of 60 improve their overall health and wellness and live a healthy lifestyle.

Amy Williamson and Scott Moyer are Blair Senior Services, Inc.’s Tai Chi instructors. They have been leading classes in Blair County for almost two years now. The classes are designed for beginners to learn the moves and gain health benefits safely and relatively quickly. “That’s the great thing about this program,” Amy explained. “When Dr. Lam first turned to Tai Chi to help manage his severe arthritis, it took him three years to learn the complex, high-risk moves, and to start to see any health benefits. He realized this was too long, so he worked with a team of medical professionals and Tai Chi experts to develop a program with movements that are easier to learn, safer, and more effective for health.”

Although Tai Chi originated in ancient China as a martial art with many complex moves, it isn’t your “typical” martial art. “Tai Chi for Health is not like karate,” Scott noted. “We don’t break boards and we definitely don’t throw anyone over our shoulders! There’s absolutely no physical contact, and we never get down on the floor, either.” It’s a mind-body exercise that integrates slow, flowing movements with breathing and cognitive skills. “Because of this,” noted Amy, “Tai Chi is sometimes called ‘meditation in motion.’” Most people practice Tai Chi today for its health and relaxation benefits. “It encourages us to slow down, focus inward, and re-connect and re-balance our body and our mind.”

Unlike most other exercises, where pushing harder and going faster is the goal, Tai Chi moves look deceptively slow and gentle. “But don’t underestimate them,” said Scott, “the movements improve muscle strength from within, which gives better support for the entire body.” This form of exercise has been gaining popularity in the United States for many years now. “Tai Chi for Health is practiced worldwide by over 5 million people each day,” noted Amy. One aspect that makes it so popular is that it is a gentle exercise, so anyone can try Tai Chi. “Almost anyone of any fitness level can practice and gain the benefits of Tai Chi in a relatively short period of time,” Scott said. “In fact, you can even be seated and realize the health benefits of the program.”

Over 500 medical studies by organizations such as Stanford University and Harvard Medical School have proven the many health benefits of Tai Chi, and more than 30 of those studies were based specifically on the Tai Chi for Health program offered through Blair Senior Services, Inc. “This program is also supported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as well as arthritis foundations worldwide,” shared Scott. Studies have shown that Tai Chi enhances flexibility, gently frees up stiff joints and helps to relieve pain, which can improve the ability to do daily tasks.

“We also focus on upright body alignment while we’re practicing Tai Chi,” Amy explained. “Good posture, among many other health benefits, is shown by studies to make you feel more positive and boost confidence, and when you feel positive and confident, it increases your chance of success in whatever the task by 20%!” One of Tai Chi’s greatest potential benefits is improving your balance, which can aid in fall prevention. “Over 1 in 3 individuals over age 65 fall each year, so practicing Tai Chi is a great way to potentially prevent this from happening.”

Tai Chi for Health classes begin with a series of warm-up exercises that work from the neck down to the ankles, gently stretching and loosening up the joints, and helping to calm and focus the mind. “These warm-ups are really necessary to loosen up our body and to quiet our mind before we begin practicing,” Scott said. Participants are encouraged to always stay within their comfort zone and modify the moves to suit their individual range of motion.

Tai Chi can be practiced at any time of the day that works for you. Many participants enjoy starting their day with Tai Chi, others use it to help unwind at the end of the day. “Some have said they do the warm-ups at night as a bedtime routine to help them relax and prepare for rest,” shared Amy. “It’s wonderful to hear that participants are integrating Tai Chi into their wellness routine!”

Participants really enjoy this relaxing and slow-moving form of exercise. “Some have remarked before class, ‘I really need this today,’ as they share what’s going on in their life at that moment,” Amy said. Tai Chi helps to relieve stress, leads to a feeling of peacefulness, and in general, is just an enjoyable practice. There’s a real sense of camaraderie in the classes. “Each group gets along so well. Before the classes start, they’re catching up with each other and asking how their week was. It’s a really good feeling to be part of such a great group,” Scott remarked. Amy agreed, sharing, “We kind of become a Tai Chi family. Every group that we’ve taught has been like this. It’s been wonderful.”

Scott and Amy started out instructing Beginner and Advanced classes and have created a third level due to participant interest. Focusing on the principles of Tai Chi, “the ‘Continuing Your Journey’ class has gone over very well,” Amy said. “Scott and I enjoy researching and preparing for the class, and helping the participants deepen their practice of Tai Chi.” They also incorporate some of the cultural background of Tai Chi into the “Continuing Your Journey” class. “To add to the experience, we try to include pieces of Chinese culture. Scott went on a trip to China a few years ago, so he’ll bring in items such as artwork or coins to talk about. We try to keep things interesting and fresh for the participants,” explained Amy. “At our current ‘Journey’ class at the Bellwood-Antis Public Library, the librarian will bring in books on Tai Chi, China, and related topics for us to peruse before or after class. That’s been a really nice bonus.” Scott and Amy also try to incorporate some of the language into the classes as well. “At the beginning of class, we ask everyone to walk around and greet each other, saying ‘Ni hao,’ or ‘hello’ in Chinese,’” Scott shared. “It’s a great way to start the class. It gets everyone smiling!”

At the end of each class, Amy reads an uplifting positive thought or quote for the day. “One of my favorite sayings right now is, ‘One Day…or Day One!’ It’s your choice! Just reversing the order of those two little words can change your life in a positive way. If you’ve been putting off trying Tai Chi and saying, ‘One day I’ll start…’ decide to make today Day One of your Tai Chi journey!” suggested Amy. Scott and Amy encourage anyone to try Tai Chi, and for those who have already taken a course, they welcome you to come back and learn more. “People can take these classes as many times as they want,” Amy shared. “We have participants who are on their fourth round of classes and are gleaning details they hadn’t noticed before, or are focusing more on integrating the principles of Tai Chi. There are so many layers to Tai Chi that the more you practice, the more depth you can add.”

Every two years, instructors must get re-certified in the Tai Chi for Health program. So, as the instructors continue to grow in their knowledge and understanding of Tai Chi, the program at Blair Senior Services, Inc. will continue to grow as well. “We’ve had such an interest in expanding and learning more about Tai Chi from many of the participants,” shared Angel Dandrea, Volunteer Program Supervisor. “It’s a really exciting time for those who are considering joining Tai Chi or those who are already on their journey.”

Tai Chi for Health at Blair Senior Services, Inc. is free for adults 60 years of age or older and their caregivers (with the participant). Amy and Scott are also teaching other evidence-based classes, including fall prevention workshops, and “Living a Healthier Life with Chronic Conditions”, a self-management workshop which starts on Wednesday, January 15th from 1:00 p.m. – 3:30 p.m. at the Bellwood-Antis Public Library. “All of these programs can have such a positive impact on each participant’s health and well-being,” Amy said. “It’s so rewarding to be a part of it.”

Disclaimer: Information contained in this article was taken from the publishing and teachings of Dr. Paul Lam.

For more information on Tai Chi for Health or other evidence-based classes, please contact Blair Senior Services, Inc. at (814) 946-1235 or toll-free at (800) 245-3282, or visit blairsenior.org and Blair Senior Services, Inc. Facebook page for a schedule of classes.

Celebrating 45 Years of Growing With You

Blair Senior Services, Inc. has been forging a path to becoming Blair County’s resource center for older adults and their families since 1974.

“As Blair Senior Services, Inc. celebrates its 45 years of service provision, it is a good opportunity to provide background information about the present and future,” President of Blair Senior Services, Inc., Steve Williamson said. “We are a non-profit social service agency that is primarily funded by the government to serve as a safety net for individuals we have been designated to serve. In terms of formal designations, we serve as the Area Agency on Aging, the local Shared Ride provider and the local MATP provider,” Williamson shared.

Offering 27 programs and services, older adults and their families no longer have to wonder where their loved ones will be getting their needed nutrition or how they are going to get the care they need… Blair Senior Services, Inc. is here to serve.

“We view the services as a continuum that starts when people least need us and can participate in a number of activities with no assistance beyond the Agency simply providing an opportunity to participate. The other end of the spectrum includes the provision of in-home services to assist with activities of daily living (bathing, dressing, grooming, etc.). Our goal is to have folks involved and/or familiar with our services prior to needing them or to use the services available on the front end of the spectrum to delay or avoid the need for more intensive services further along the services spectrum,” Williamson said.

Over the course of the past five years since the 40th Anniversary, Blair Senior Services, Inc. has had a makeover! It has received a new, more recognizable logo, as well as a new Facebook page and a new website where you can find information on any program or service that they offer. Seasons Magazine, published quarterly, was given a fresh new design layout to make it even easier to read all of the lifestyle and senior living news featured in every issue. These cosmetic changes are only the first layer to the great things happening at Blair Senior Services, Inc.!

Throughout Blair County, the most recognizable part of Blair Senior Services, Inc. may be their fleet of transportation vans. The vans run Monday through Friday to ensure older adults and residents of Blair County have a reliable form of transportation year-round. Since the beginning of Blair Senior Services, Inc.’s Transportation Program, they have expanded their fleet to nearly 40 vans, adding two vans most recently during 2018. At the Transportation Hub located in Hollidaysburg, approximately 500 to 600 dispatch calls are answered daily! During the 2018-2019 program year, 112,866 total trips were given to 2,716 consumers. Blair Senior Services, Inc.’s consumers can depend on the Transportation Program to safely transport them to doctor’s visits, run errands, visit family, and more!

Physical and emotional health are important to Blair Senior Services, Inc. The Agency provides multiple opportunities for older adults to have socialization, exercise, relaxation and feelings of achievement throughout several different programs. Through the four Senior Centers located throughout Blair County, older adults have daily opportunities to socialize with other adults, share in a congregate meal, participate in exercise classes and spend some time learning new things to better their quality of life. During the 2018-2019 program year, the four Senior Centers, Central Blair Senior Center (Altoona); Northern Blair Senior Center (Tyrone); Southern Blair Senior Center (East Freedom); and Williamsburg Senior Center (Williamsburg), welcomed 74,995 visits from older adults. The Senior Centers are proud to offer multiple exercise classes, with varying difficulty levels, to ensure every participant has the opportunity to join in and have some fun!

Older adults in Blair County have also taken advantage of the Foster Grandparent and Senior Companion Programs since their introduction in the 1980s. These volunteer programs offer a great opportunity for socialization and provide a rewarding experience for older adults in the area looking for “something more.” During the 2018-2019 program year, there were 56 volunteers in the Foster Grandparent Program that served 53,288 hours. In the Senior Companion Program, there were 66 volunteers that served 52,514 hours. Between both programs, volunteers served 105,802 volunteer hours assisting local seniors and children in need. These programs help to further enhance Blair Senior Services, Inc.’s positive impact in the community by offering Foster Grandparent volunteer services to assist children in schools and day cares as well as Senior Companion volunteer services to assist other area older adults with daily activities.

Blair Senior Services, Inc.’s main goal is to enrich the quality of life and ensure the safety of its consumers and older adults in Blair County, which is why programs such as Home Delivered Meals, APPRISE, and Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) are offered. The Home Delivered Meals Program, also known as “Meals on Wheels,” provides hot, nutritious meals to older adults in the Blair County region. In the 2018-2019 program year, Meals on Wheels volunteers delivered 125,840 meals to 960 consumers. With this program, Blair County residents age 60 or older no longer have to worry about acquiring nutritious meals.

One of the biggest concerns for older adults is navigating Medicare and other health insurance options. Blair Senior Services, Inc. understands this need, which is why it offers free health insurance counseling through the APPRISE Program. Through the APPRISE Program, Medicare beneficiaries can make the best decision possible when it comes to their health insurance. During the 2018-2019 program year, 2,318 individuals received health insurance counseling through the APPRISE Program at Blair Senior Services, Inc. With this program, Blair Senior Services, Inc. can continue to be a great resource assisting older adults in the region with navigating health insurance options.

Along with assisting older adults with navigating health insurance options, Blair Senior Services, Inc. offers appointments each year to eligible older adults who need assistance with income tax preparation when income tax season rolls around. As adults age, they can receive multiple sources of income, like Social Security or pensions, which can make income taxes very difficult. Not only can older adults have multiple sources of income, they may also have plenty of deductible expenses that they are unaware of. The VITA Program offers income tax assistance, but it also offers a great rewarding volunteer experience for those who have experience in finance or tax preparation. Check out some of the great work the volunteers completed during the 2018-2019 program year in the chart on page 6!

For the past 45 years, Blair Senior Services, Inc. has been dedicated to assisting older individuals remain independent and healthy for as long as possible, but assistance doesn’t stop there. The Agency is always aiming to help those who are dependent on caregivers, receiving in-home care or those who are in a nursing facility. Whatever life throws at you, Blair Senior Services, Inc. is prepared to help you.

Through the Ombudsman Program, Ombudsmen visit over 40 long-term care facilities to check with residents to determine if their rights are being upheld, needs are being met, and if there are any unanswered concerns.
Residents of the facilities may volunteer to become advocates themselves. The Agency’s Ombudsman advocates for the rights of all residents in all long-term care facilities, such as nursing homes, personal care homes, and more. In 2018, the Agency’s Ombudsman Program ended the year with 36 completed cases. They are on target to complete the same number of cases in 2019! The Ombudsman Program has reached an average of 247 facility residents per year with their Annual Resident’s Rights trainings, and an average of 54 facility staff members per year. As the Ombudsman Program continues to grow and gain awareness, residents can feel comfortable knowing that Blair Senior Services, Inc. continues to advocate for those who can’t, support those who can, and ensure all long-term care consumers live with dignity and respect.

“The vast majority of Blair Senior Services, Inc.’s funding comes from the government, with our largest source of funding being the Pennsylvania Lottery,” Williamson said. “The majority of our services are not funded with taxpayer dollars, with the Medical Assistance Programs being the exception,” he said. “This government funding has especially been flat for 10 years, while the number of older adults and the consumer price index have increased significantly,” he explained. “The reality is resources will not be enough to meet all of the identified needs. In that context, our obligation and imperative is to serve those with the greatest social and economic need.”

It is clear to see that Blair Senior Services, Inc. is dedicated to maintaining consumer’s dignity, empowering older adults to reach their potential, advocating for their health and safety and always giving older adults the respect they deserve. Blair Senior Services, Inc. has come a long way since its creation in 1974, and there will be many more dedicated years to the community and beyond.

“When compared to other states, Pennsylvania has a robust and reasonably well funded service system for older adults,” Williamson said. “Neither Blair Senior Services, Inc., nor the Aging System in Pennsylvania, can be everything for everyone, but we can be a safety net for those with the greatest need and fewest resources,” Williamson shared. “We can also offer opportunities for others to participate in preventative or wellness type activities for those that are forward thinking enough to put stereotypes aside and look to see if we have anything to offer for you.”

For more information about Blair Senior Services, Inc., its programs or services, please visit www.blairsenior.org, call 814-946-1235 and Like and Follow Blair Senior Services, Inc.’s Facebook page for updates and information.