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Local nonprofit supports older adults in staying independent

Posted on 25 July 2016 by calvin

Nokomis Healthy Seniors staff and volunteers has been serving the community for more than 20 years

Lisa worried about her neighbor Sally’s recent falls and struggles with everyday tasks. But Lisa knew who to call: Nokomis Healthy Seniors (NHS). The next day, Anna, a volunteer, took Sally to the grocery store.

Nokomis Healthy Seniors 120113Photo left: At a recent inter-generational bingo and lunch event with campers of Bethel Lutheran Church, an older adult was surprised with a birthday cupcake and song. (Photo submitted)

In an unassuming office tucked behind the gym of Bethel Lutheran Church, the small staff of Nokomis Healthy Seniors (NHS) lives out the organization’s mission to “enhance the lives of our community elders by helping them continue to live independently in the homes they love.”

NHS, a non-profit organization that is not affiliated with any church or religious organization, has been doing just that in the greater Nokomis area for more than 20 years.

Nokomis Healthy Seniors 2sqPhoto right: Part of staying independent is maintaining strength by using hand weights. (Photo submitted)

NHS’ services are needed now more than ever as Minnesota, like the United States as a whole, is experiencing a “silver tsunami.” And the majority of these older adults want to stay in their homes as they age. But to do that successfully, says NHS Executive Director Megan Elliasen, “most people need a bit of help now and then, and that’s where Nokomis Healthy Seniors comes in.” It’s that critical, holistic help, from foot care, support groups, and exercise classes to social activities, educational workshops, transportation, light household tasks, and companionship that can make the difference in older adults retaining their independence.

Nokomis Healthy Seniors 100647Photo left: The Nokomis Healthy Seniors offers exercise classes, some of which are modified, that are offered each weekday. The most recent addition is yoga. (Photo submitted)

Studies show that when older adults live in their own homes (as long as it’s safe to do so), the result is more secure social connections, lower medical expenses, and stronger, more stable neighborhoods and communities.

NHS helps maintain strong communities by serving about 600 older adults each year. All are welcome to participate in most activities; a few programs are available only to those who live in 15 neighborhoods in the Nokomis area. Most of NHS’ programs and services are free or low cost, making them accessible to most.

A critical lifeline
Many older adults, especially those who live alone or have mobility issues, are at risk for isolation and depression. So for some NHS participants, the program is a real lifeline.

Nokomis Healthy Seniors 068aPhoto right: One of the newest informal activities for older adults at NHS is adult coloring time, which has been shown to both de-stress and stimulate the brain. (Photo submitted)

Connie says that NHS and its fellowship and programs are critical to her well-being, “Tuesdays and Thursdays, I would be lost if I didn’t come here,” she says. “I love this organization. It has opened many doors for me.”

Ninety-two-year-old Martha says, “I get advice, friendship, knowledge… everything! Thursdays [when she attends NHS] are my favorite day of the week.”

Jayne and her husband Laurie, who have participated in NHS programs for several years, agree. “The great thing about NHS is the people” Jayne says, “They make it a great place—they’re like another family to us!” The couple has introduced NHS to several others from their neighborhood. They encourage other older adults to spread the word about the variety of services and activities available from the organization.

Looking forward
Activities are continually being tweaked. One of NHS’ goals is to offer a wider range of services and programs that appeal to older adults. NHS recently added yoga classes, which have proven so popular that a second day was added. It also offers adult coloring books and brain activities during “The Nurse is In” blood pressure checks/social time on Thursdays.

Nokomis Healthy Seniors 13 010Photo right: Each Thursday morning, NHS offers “The Nurse is In,” which includes free blood pressure checks and a chance to chat with a nurse, social time, treats, and exercise classes. (Photo submitted)

Elliasen plans to apply for grants to offer nutrition education and cooking classes. And NHS’ participants themselves took the initiative to start a women’s art group.

Volunteers make the difference
Like many small nonprofits, the budget is tight for NHS, which is funded by individual and corporate donations, grants, contracts, and program fees. NHS keeps its fees low because of partnerships with community resources (including Nokomis Square Cooperative and Fairview Health Services?) and volunteers.

Both individuals and corporate groups are vital in helping NHS live out its mission by giving their time and talent to serve older adults and strengthen the greater Nokomis community. Elliasen says that NHS can always use volunteers to serve on its board of directors, lend professional expertise, or to provide rides for older adults.

One such familiar face is Fred, who has volunteered with Nokomis Healthy Seniors since he retired. Fred loves to drive. So matching him with older adults who need rides to medical appointments, pharmacy shopping, and NHS social events, was a win for all involved.

Nokomis Healthy Seniors 007Photo left: Bingo and lunch, as well as other games and movies, are a favorite activity at Nokomis Healthy Seniors. (Photo submitted)

Each Thursday, Johnson drives three women to the NHS social time, “The Nurse is In,” and special events, such as “Lunch and a Movie.” Some joke that Johnson “loves his ladies,” but he’s serious about his commitment to helping them stay engaged. “I like to help people ‘get out’,” Johnson says.

Get involved
So, how can older adults (of any age) get involved? Elliasen suggests they check out the free “The Nurse is In” time on Thursday mornings to meet the staff and other area residents and to get a feel for NHS’ programs.

(Note: Some names have been changed to protect privacy.)

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