The fitness team at GreenFields of Geneva has found that the secret to their amazing success is making sure to establish connections.
"What I love when I'm working with a group of people, is finding that spark, that young look in their eyes when you know their spirit has been lifted," said Kristin O'Connor. "My goal is always to find that spark, and then get the residents moving to have fun and feel young.
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GreenFields is a complete continuum of care retirement community (CCRC) offering independent living, assisted living, memory support, rehabilitation and skilled nursing.
Holly Ruge, senior FITness program training specialist and Kristin O'Connor, senior FITness specialist, both of Alliance Rehab, joined GreenFields earlier this year. They bring with them experience, passion and enthusiasm for helping older adults have healthy and active lifestyles. Their wide variety of fitness programs and events have enticed more than 100 residents to participate, including those independent living, assisted living, memory support, rehabilitation and skilled nursing.
Kristin said that what she likes best is finding what the residents are interested in and can relate to, and then connecting with them. "Whether it's through music or dances from their era, I like to identify what makes them feel young. When I make that connection, it motivates them and then we introduce the fitness component that really meets their needs. That's what I love; the challenge and reward of that," she said. "When they leave a class they're excited and happy and that's what motivates me."
Holly, who has a background in kinesiology with a concentration in movement science, said that working with older adults is astounding. "The level of activity and the passion for living a healthy and active lifestyle amazes me. And it helps me grow as a person to hear the stories of their lives," she said. "I now have more than 100 adopted grandparents! They care about me and what's going on. It's so nice to make the connection, and help them have the best quality of life they can have at this time in their lives. It's a blessing in my own life."
One of the team's biggest hits was the community's exercise dance class. Already a popular program, Kristin decided to give it a fun twist when she came on board. Assigning a different theme every six weeks or so, she started with the movie "Singing in the Rain." "I watched it over and over again and choreographed a lot of the songs," Kristin said. "We have a blast dancing around. We do 'back flips' in our chairs, which entails lifting our knees which does abdominal work. We do jazz hands like Gene Kelly, and 'hit the wall' like Donald O'Connor. Residents who haven't moved like this in years, if ever, are loving it. New people join the class all of the time and love to bring in their friends. They'll say, 'you just need to come to dance class. It's fun and Kristin's such a firecracker you just never know what she's going to do next'."
The dance class, which started in the independent living neighborhood, has also been introduced to residents in Reflections Memory Support. "They've fallen in love with it. You put on the music from 'Singing in the Rain' and it sparks a very special memory for many of them," Kristin said.
Holly has ramped up many of the classes which were formerly conducted with the residents remaining seated. "They're liking the challenge and really stepping up. We're also getting participants down to the floor to use the mats if they're able for stretches, and yoga and Pilates. That's something they have done here yet," she said. Holly takes her tai chi class outside when weather permits. "The residents love it," she said.
Along with the sense of fun and variety that the team seeks to provide, they are "sticklers" for technicality and form.
"Having proper posture and performing exercises correctly is very important to us, and by making exercise fun in the process, it's a win-win for everybody. The residents understand the importance of proper breathing techniques and form during the classes," said Holly. "When you put our emphasis on technicality, variety and fun together with our goal of improving quality of life for the participants we serve, the result is a program that's really effective as well as unique."
GreenFields offers independent living, assisted living, memory support, rehabilitation and skilled nursing, with the most comprehensive plan available for long-term care if ever needed. For additional information, visit www.GreenFieldsOfGeneva.org.