Graceful Aging Wellness Center 1st Anniversary

Friday, May 15, 2015 - 5:00pm

By Cami Dibattista
Graceful Aging Wellness Center, a unique facility that offers patrons an opportunity to gather and focus on improving all aspects of their health, recently celebrated its first successful year.

“We are changing aging in the way we respect and nurture living fully and vibrantly. This is the most important stage of life,” Director Cathy Graham said of the center that is open to anyone age 50 or older in the Ligonier Valley and surrounding communities.

Located within Bethlen Communities, the center offers members classes and activities focused on intellectual and creative development, along with a fitness center complete with cardiovascular and strength training equipment and a group fitness area.

“Being at the Wellness Center is about celebrating the everyday moments that make up life,” said Melissa Marasia, a certified senior fitness instructor. “We get as much out of being here as the members do. To get to know them on a deeper lever and watch their steady progress is very rewarding.”

Ligonier resident Judy Ridgway recently participated in an exercise class as the guest of a current member.

“It was a lot of fun,” said Ridgway. “The instructor was terrific. She taught without making anyone feel inadequate.”

Ridgway said the class she attended was a mixture of women and men participants, ranging in age from 55 to around 80, and that she was impressed with the selection of exercise equipment available.

“While exercising, you're in a room surrounded with windows that give a beautiful view of the valley,” she said. “I give a big kudos to the center; membership is very affordable, there is an excellent staff and a beautiful facility. I will definitely be joining up.”

During the past year, Graham and Marasia, have been encouraging the “Baby Boomer” community to live every single moment as beautifully as possible.

“The responses of our participants let us know we are on the right path,” Graham said. “We're excited about our direction in year two.”

The upcoming year brings exciting changes for facility, including the addition of a new employee — Educational Programs Coordinator Krista Sarraf.

Sarraf is the founder of Write Local, a nonprofit organization dedicated to inspiring local writers through workshops, contests and publishing opportunities.

A writing instructor at both Seton Hill University and Westmoreland County Community College, Sarraf led her first workshop at the center recently, a journaling class. “I proposed this class because I'm fascinated by the emotional and physical benefits of writing,” Sarraf said. “It's amazing that, by writing, we can reduce stress, which in turn benefits our overall wellbeing.”

The class focused on free writing to help participants push through mental barriers and release creativity.

“I became interested in adult education as the director of Write Local,” Sarraf said. “Volunteers frequently told me that volunteering reignited their love of writing; I was curious as to why my Write Local volunteers were so energized by their experiences in the classroom.”

Sarraf said she plans to apply the volunteer model to the Graceful Aging Wellness Center.

“Members and area residents will get to volunteer to teach a class on something they're interested in,” she said. “It's a win-win; the volunteer rediscovers a passion while the participants learn something new. We're even going to provide some teaching training for those who want to volunteer but are out of practice.”

Sarraf said she finds the work being done to expand the educational program at the facility both important and exciting.

“We learn new things every day, but, as we get older, we can become creatures of habit. We need to step outside our comfort zones to truly challenge our minds to stay sharp,” Sarraf said. “Exercise is critical for brain health, but so is learning new things. Plus, let's admit, it's fun! As adults, we get to keep all the best parts of school and toss the less palatable stuff: with no grades and no homework, we simply enjoy becoming more engaged, thoughtful individuals.”

Additional activities at the center will include a book club, a computer class and a wine painting event in June.

“I'm excited for folks to bring us more ideas in the coming months as well,” Sarraf said. “We'll be offering classes on many topics. We're seeking volunteers to delve into a wide range of subjects — anything from genealogy, to horticulture, to cooking, to law, to history.”

Sarraf said a program about polar bears and the melting ice caps — led by a Graceful Aging member, is already scheduled for July.

“Krista is an amazing talent and a perfect complement to our staff,” Graham said. “With our first year under our belt we are ready to branch out and grow in the area of intellectual engagement.”

Graham said she has shared many meaningful experiences with participants at the center over the past year.

“We are guided by their impressions and insight. The most rewarding thing to us is that we have created a place where people aged 50 and over feel they belong,” Graham said.

Ligonier resident Judy Irwin and her husband, Dennis, were among the first to sign up at the center.

“I am constantly amazed that Ligonier has a facility like this,” Irwin said. “Not only is it a fitness center but gives you seven aspects of wellness. I try to attend as many classes as I can. Cathy and Melissa have really created a well-rounded center and I truly enjoy aging gracefully.”

Cami DiBattista is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.

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