Through the San Diego Foundation’s Health & Human Services Grant, the Norman Park Senior Center was able to leverage new and existing community partnerships to offer fun and educational classes, presentations, workshops, and events focused on the three core areas of prevention, diet and nutrition, physical activity, and mental health. Through this grant, the Recreation Department was able to serve over 150 seniors while expanding its cutting edge health and fitness opportunities.
As the 75th largest city in the United States, with an estimated population of 266,988, Chula Vista serves a large and diverse group of older adults and seniors at the Norman Park Senior Center. The center is the only designated senior center within the City of Chula Vista. The Norman Park Senior Center has been an integral part of the City of Chula Vista for over 50 years now. The center welcomes all elderly regardless of ability or income levels, by supporting their services through Federal, state, and local grants and partnerships to offer a multitude of free or low costs services. This senior center is unique because houses its own senior recreation programs that foster continued learning, skill acquisition, independent living, volunteer opportunities, and social and community engagement opportunities. The center also provides valuable services to the elderly, low income families, and those with disabilities through its partnerships with a variety of local non-profit organizations such as Elderlaw, Meals on Wheels, Southern Caregivers Resource Center, Parkinson’s Association, AARP, Scripps Mercy Hospital Chula Vista Well Being Center, Silverado Hospice, and many more.
With a number of health issues in the county affecting the aging population, the Chula Vista Recreation Department began seeking opportunities to address these health issues. They department found creative ways educate, encourage, and inspire older adults on steps they can take to lead a healthier life style and improve their overall quality of life with a focus on disease prevention.
In 2012, there were 14,929 deaths among seniors aged 65+ years in San Diego County. The leading cause of death among those seniors was heart disease, followed by cancer. Among the 85+ years age group the leading cause was heart disease, followed by cancer, and then Alzheimer’s. Although there is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease and other dementia, several studies have suggested that it is possible to delay or prevent the onset of dementia by practicing brain health strategies. These include eating a balanced diet, managing chronic pain, and being physically active. Compared to the rest of the country, rates of coronary heart disease, stroke, diabetes, respiratory disease and cancer are higher among seniors aged 65+ years, as older adults are at higher risk for these diseases. Three behaviors, lack of physical activity, poor diet, and tobacco use, lead to these four diseases, which account for over 50% of deaths among seniors.
The Chula Vista Recreation Department realized it was imperative to the community’s long term well-being and quality of life to explore additional opportunities for new, creative, innovative, and fun classes, events and activities to address prevention for each of the major diseases and health challenges seniors in our county are facing as they age.
Norman Park Senior Center, traditionally only offered activities and workshops in English, however, they have recognized the need to reach out to the large Hispanic, Latino, and Asian population of seniors in their county. These demographics, which were previously underserved, are now provided with education, classes, and events where they can feel welcome and comfortable. They center focused their efforts to seek out opportunities and resources to expand their educational and recreational offerings in languages other than English on subjects related to diet, nutrition and physical activity with an emphasis on identifying opportunities for multi- lingual classes and workshops for seniors whose native language was either Spanish or Korean.
With this in mind, the Recreation Department, along with the Friends of Chula Vista Parks and Recreation, sought out grant opportunities to help fund this initiative. They were awarded a grant from the San Diego Foundation’s Health & Human Services Grants Program for Senior Healthcare and Nutrition services for the grant period of December 1, 2014 through November 30, 2015. The grant funding made it possible for the Recreation Department to continue this mission by connecting the community with free health education and fitness programming in the languages much of the senior community was speaking: English, Spanish, and Korean.
Through the San Diego Foundation’s Health & Human Services Grant, the Norman Park Senior Center was able to leverage new and existing community partnerships to offer fun and educational classes, presentations, workshops and events focused on the three core areas of prevention diet and nutrition, physical activity and mental health. By utilizing community connections they were able to partner with local experts to put on eight health and nutrition presentations regarding topics affecting seniors in the county. The workshops were offered in cooperation with local health organizations including: Scripps Mercy Wellbeing Center, San Ysidro Health Center, and the Alzheimer’s Association. Professionals led these workshops that covered prevention for various age related subjects affecting local seniors such as Diabetes, Breast Cancer, 10 signs of Alzheimer’s, Balance & Fall Prevention, healthy eating, and caregiver support.
The grant funds also provided seniors with ten free cooking and nutrition classes. Six free bilingual, Spanish and English, cooking and nutrition classes called, “Changing Minds & Habits” focused on making simple changes including ways to increase consumption of fruits and vegetables. This course was to focus on not only thwarting disease but to increase the quality of life for those with chronic disease. Various easy recipes and cooking techniques were demonstrated and sampled to incorporate the nutrition lessons taught at each class. Additionally, they contracted with Celebrity Chef, Kathleen Choi, to conduct a bilingual Korean cooking class. She demonstrated and spoke about the benefits of healthy Asian and Korean cooking while teaching about the nutritional components in a variety of foods and spices related to the Korean culture. The center was honored to be able to have such a visible and highly respected chef teach their first ever bilingual Korean cooking class.
The center also partnered with UCSD Moores Cancer Center to provide three cooking and nutrition workshops focused on cancer prevention. The workshops included food demonstrations, taste testing, and discussion of the recipe’s nutrient content as well as how to purchase, prepare, and serve nutritious meals to prevent cancer. The workshops included: “Fight Cancer with Food”, “The Power of Colorful Food”, and “Debunking Nutrition Myths.”
During the grant period the center also offered a number of bilingual fitness classes to increase physical activity in the aging population. They then added ten free bilingual fitness classes called “Dance Cardio Parties” which included fun and easy dance moves choreographed to Latin, 50’s, and modern music. They hosted a “Holiday Fitness Frenzy” which was a variety of ten to fifteen minute, fitness classes to expose seniors who don’t exercise regularly or who may be nervous to join, to the classes provided at Norman Park Senior Center. The center recognizes that mental health is as important as physical health and with the grant funds we were able to provide six free “Laughter Yoga” classes. These new collaborations and community partnerships allowed them to provide 150 seniors, who spoke English, Spanish, and Korean, with the complete set of tools to live a healthy lifestyle.