OhioHealth O’Bleness Hospital organizes SeniorBEAT, which allows local seniors to stay active through fitness and social programs.

Note: This story appears in the Sunday, July 21 newspaper on Page A1. 

Whether it’s an afternoon history lesson, a book club discussion or a friendly game of chair volleyball, a group of Athens County seniors find opportunities to stay physically and mentally active in the community.

These seniors are a part of SeniorBEAT, a program of OhioHealth O’Bleness Hospital. It is based in the Athens area, though a new cohort in Nelsonville is in the works.

SeniorBEAT — short for “Be Educated and Active Together” — was founded in 1996 by social worker Peggy Irwin, who recognized a need to expand resources for Athens’ elderly population. Irwin worked alongside O’Bleness social worker Alice Hawthorne to create a program that provides regular, free activities for adults 55 and older.

“We believe the health and wellness and vitality of the older adult members of our community are about more than diagnosis, treatment or rehabilitation,” said Caitlin Bond, who now serves as the program’s coordinator. “It’s about having the opportunity to be educated and active together.”

SeniorBEAT has a variety of events offered to members, including several exercise classes per week, and a monthly “Food for the Thought” presentation, where a local expert engages the group in discussion on topics like nutrition, mental health and understanding loss.

Along with the personal benefits members gain from SeniorBEAT, they also commit themselves to giving back. Last year, program coordinators estimate, SeniorBEAT participants spent hundreds of hours volunteering within the community.

The combined attendance of June’s events topped 700 individuals. To help assist with event planning for this large group, the program has an advisory board.

Phyllis Field Baxter is a SeniorBEAT board member and joined the group with her husband in 2006 after the two retired as professors from Ohio University’s history department.

“My husband and I choose restaurants for the lunch group,” Field Baxter said. “I’ve definitely been able to try more restaurants because of this program. The program is a lot of trying new things you don’t expect, and that’s important when you’re older. It’s easy to fall into a rut if you’re not feeling 100 percent, and this gets your mind off things.”

Hallie Vore is also a board member and has been a part of SeniorBEAT for 19 years. After her husband died in 2000, Vore’s sister-in-law invited her to a program event and has attended regularly ever since.

“I’ve loved all the programs and I’ve made a lot of friends through this group,” Vore said. “It gets people like me out and about. Most of my family lives in Georgia so I only have a few local family members. I need something like this to occupy some of my time.”

For Vore and Field Baxter, their favorite SeniorBEAT event is clear: chair volleyball. The sport has a long history in Athens: an annual Southeast Ohio Chair Volleyball Tournament has been held here since 2003, drawing groups from around the region to showcase their skills.

A total of 12 teams competed in the 2019 tournament, with the SeniorBEAT Prime Time Players taking home the gold.

“My husband and I started out doing the exercise groups and recently we’ve gotten really into chair volleyball,” said Field Baxter, who practices twice per week. “I’d say it’s my favorite activity. It’s fun and it’s something to look forward to every Tuesday and Thursday.”

Bond, the program coordinator, said there are plans to extend SeniorBEAT’s reach to the city of Nelsonville.

As the SeniorBEAT program expands, it looks to extend its reach to the city of Nelsonville.

On Wednesday, July 24, the SeniorBEAT program will host a listening session at Nelsonville Public Library from 2-3:30 p.m. The goal of this session is to share the program’s mission with Nelsonville seniors and gauge feedback about starting a new SeniorBEAT group there.

“We believe that every older adult should have access to opportunities for healthy aging,” Bond said.

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