Senior Wellness Program that Heals Inside & Out

Looking Out for the Older Adults

Gayle Hirami is always looking out for the wellness of the older adults who gather at the Venice Japanese Community Center. Ensuring that an older adult makes it on the bus to get home, as well as greeting each new face with a smile and asking what they need, are just a few of the little things that she is conscious of as the program coordinator for the Senior Wellness Program at the center.

For a few years, Gayle coordinated the center’s senior nutrition program and began providing extra activities for older adults to engage in during lunch. When the center heard about the Keiro Grants Program, they wanted to expand their programming to further enhance what Gayle had started. Through the grant, they were able to increase the number of weekly classes and activities accompanying the senior nutrition program for older adult members.

Providing a Reason to Come

From finding a community magician, or showing thought-provoking films, Gayle tries to attract any and all interest levels when it comes to activities. Throughout the week, there are various exercise classes as well ranging from tai chi, chair aerobics, and chair yoga to chair zumba. Outside instructors provide high quality classes for free to members of the Senior Wellness Program, through Keiro grant support.

The program is striving to create more opportunities for the older adults to collaborate instead of just providing a space for participants to engage in independent activities. Having older adults interact with one another is Gayle’s goal for these gatherings. Knowing the risks of social isolation, she aims to bring new people to the program, and to always look out for these individuals. She proactively talks to various clubs that gather at the center to bring awareness of her programming, and provide them another opportunity for them to come to the center. “I even joined the line dancing group to invite them to the program,” she chuckled.  

The success of the program can easily be seen by the sheer number of older adults in attendance. Gayle recalled, “Through the survey [we conducted], we know that the older adults like the instructors and what they learn at the exercise classes. We have to give older adults a reason to come here, and we hit the mark with these classes.”

Since the expansion of her program in June 2019, multiple exercise classes grew so much that they had to move to a larger room. Gayle has also seen a big change in the attendees, not only in attendance, but also their overall being. “They’re happier inside, as well as physically,” Gayle observed.

Mrs. Kosaka, Gayle’s Cheerleader

When asked what keeps Gayle going, she can’t help but acknowledge one individual who gave her constant feedback. Mrs. Kosaka, a prominent member and volunteer, would always comment on activities that she led. Whether she was giving Gayle a pat on the back or telling her, “come here, this is too hard!” Gayle appreciated her verbal feedback to determine which direction or approach she should take. Mrs. Kosaka was the spokesperson for the older adults and Gayle’s biggest cheerleader. “Even after Mrs. Kosaka passed away, I just felt like I always hear her saying, ‘Keep this going, keep educating us, keep these activities.’ So it makes me feel like I’m doing it for her, because other people are benefitting too but they might not say it,” Gayle said.

Mrs. Kosaka, in yellow, with other members learning shodo

Figuring Out the Real Needs

The biggest challenge is finding older adults like Mrs. Kosaka who will tell her what they want. Surveys showed older adults’ need for alternative transportation. Though Gayle created a resource page of alternative transportation options, many did not tell Gayle what their specific needs were.

She is on a mission to find new opportunities in addition to exercise classes that would be the next hit. “What else can we do to bring them in? In order for a program to be successful, you have to give a reason for older adults to come besides food. I have to know what they want, like, and need.” Gayle hopes to start various activities such as a game day, a walking club, a women’s chat session, and possibly a field trip in the future. She wants to branch out to neighboring organizations to collaborate on activities at VJCC, and find more older adults to come to classes to engage and socialize, especially for those who are homebound.