A Matter of Balance: The Class that Brought Change

First Presbyterian Church Altadena has faithfully served the local Japanese American community in the Pasadena area for over 100 years. With nearly half of their congregation over the age of 65, the church began collaborating with Keiro two years ago to provide free healthy living classes to help their members age well.

One of the classes Keiro provided was A Matter of Balance, an evidence-based program developed by Maine Health and Boston University. Facilitated by Keiro staff and volunteers, the eight-week course aims to increase participants’ confidence in their mobility and decrease their fear of falling through group discussion and activities. These include home safety assessments, weekly exercises to improve strength and balance, and opportunities to share personal experiences and tips with the class..

Identifying Uneven Pavement as Fall Hazards

A Matter of Balance exercise sheet

The course also gave participants the opportunity to identify a long-held problem for the congregation. During one of the sessions, participants were asked to walk around the church and assess potential fall hazards. One of the most serious hazards found was the uneven pavement in the church parking lot and other areas of the property.

“We have focused on design for our facilities, so a lot of things caught up with us in terms of trying to maintain a safe environment,” says Bob Uchida, a member of the Board of Stewards and A Matter of Balance participant. The stewards are in charge of both finances and facility maintenance for the congregation.

The Nisei Generation in Particular Do Not Complain

The uneven pavement had been an issue for years, but no one had raised the problem or even recognized it might be a dangerous fall hazard. “[There was] a lot of deferred maintenance for years,” says Dorothy Kirkland, a member of the Elders of the church. “But our congregation doesn’t complain, [because] we know that the stewards do the best they can with the money we have.”

The Nisei generation in particular do not complain, she says. As an example, one older adult fell because of the uneven surface. She broke her arm, but never voiced a concern about it until people asked her.

“That’s the nature of the Nisei generation,” says Bob.

Repavement Through Keiro Grants Program

First presbyterian church altadena parking lot

Following the completion of A Matter of Balance, the church learned about Keiro’s Grants Program and submitted a proposal to fix the church’s fall hazards. A few months later, they were notified that they had received the grant. “It was perfect timing,” says Dorothy.

Although finding a contractor took some effort, the repavement itself was completed in just a week. “One weekend, it was the usual, and the next weekend it was all new,” recalls Bob. They renovated the front and back parking lots, and some of the pavement around the church, all completed by mid-September 2018.

“It’s very timely that the balance class helped the church understand safety concerns prior to the grant cycle,” says Dorothy. “Even though we knew we needed [the renovation], this activity allowed for a number of people to say, ‘this is a real problem’ and saying it in a declarative sentence, ‘you need to fix this; this is dangerous.’”

Collaboration and Connection Through Keiro’s Classes

Bob saw another positive outcome of Keiro’s classes: collaboration and connection with other local Japanese American organizations in the area, including the Pasadena Japanese Cultural Institute and Pasadena Buddhist Temple.  Opening up the Keiro classes to all locals allowed these organizations to come together more often. “They’re experiencing the same kinds of issues [as us]. We are shrinking, they are shrinking. And so it makes sense that because we are so close that we ought to have more interconnection and interlink, and we have done quite a bit in the last year,” Bob says. “Many of us will attend their events, and they come to ours. And I think a lot of this is because of Keiro classes that we had here.”

The initial version of the article noted that the church has been serving the community for over 50 years, but it actually has served for over 100 years.
The initial version also noted that over half of the congregation was over 80 years old, but actually is 65 years old.