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WCHA Senior Initiative Receives National Award
By Lisa Reutzel


Westmoreland County Housing Authority (WCHA) wants its senior residents to lead healthier, happier and longer lives.

That’s why in 2017, WCHA introduced a three-pronged initiative to its residents age 60 and older. It was this initiative that was recently recognized with a 2018 Award of Merit from the National Association of Housing and Redevelopment Officials (NAHRO).

The NAHRO Awards of Merit program was created 19 years ago to recognize agencies who found innovative ways of making a difference in their communities and in the lives of the people they serve by creating affordable housing, revitalizing their neighborhoods, and developing initiatives to create new opportunities to the people they serve.

“I want to thank NAHRO” for the award, said WCHA Executive Director Michael L. Washowich.

“Our senior initiative is an important component in assisting our seniors in living a longer, healthier lifestyle through exercise, diet and nutrition.”

The NAHRO Awards of Merit program was created 19 years ago to recognize agencies who found innovative ways of making a difference in their communities and in the lives of the people they serve by creating affordable housing, revitalizing their neighborhoods, and developing initiatives to create new opportunities to the people they serve.

PART I

The first portion of the WCHA initiative, “Elderly Wellness,” is being presented in conjunction with nearby Seton Hill University.

Seton Hill’s Science and Coordinated Program in Nutrition/Dietetics’ students work onsite with senior residents to educate them on the benefits of better nutrition/diet. In turn, university students gain insight into the aging process and get a better understanding of how rewarding it is to work with people of this age group.

With the major of WCHA senior residents having incomes at or below 50 percent of the median income, many have been forced to make the difficult decision between purchasing quality food and medication.

“Our elderly residents will greatly benefit from onsite nutrition/dietetic. A well-balanced diet is critical for older adults and their overall health,” said Washowich.

Many are also managing chronic illnesses, such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer, and are relying on cheap, processed foods for quick and easy nutrition.

The program offers seniors a much-needed alternative. For example, through the program, residents can learn such things as how to use Senior Food Boxes that they receive from the local Food Bank, and other low-cost foods to create simple, yet nutritious meals that are well balanced and healthy.

Participants also get the opportunity to attend a class at the university, giving them an enhanced campus experience.

PART II

 “Flex Fit” is an exercise wellness program that provides physical and mental stimulation.

A physical trainer works with the seniors, some who use walkers and wheelchairs, in developing a routine based on the individual’s physical ability. The hour-long weekly routines include a variety of breathing and stretching exercises while also incorporating elements of yoga and tai chi to improve senior’s balance and flexibility.

The program follows the four exercise guidelines recommended by the National Institute on Aging – endurance, coordination, relaxation and education.

Through Flex Fit, residents have noticed the benefits of increasing their level of activity.

“I was able to bend down better. It gave me more strength and balance … I wish she was here twice a week,” said one 74-year-old participant.

Research has shown that exercise can help improve a person’s lifestyle and allow them to live longer and live better. Research has also shown that exercise can not only benefit seniors’ physical health, but there are mental benefits as well.

PART III

The “Pen Pal” program is offered through a partnership between WCHA and Hempfield Area School District. The program pairs first–grade students with seniors to form a “pen pal” relationship.

Over the course of several months, the students and seniors interact through letters and cards. At the end of the program, the seniors are taken to the local school to meet the students face-to-face.

The program offers social stimulation to the senior participants, but according to the students’ teacher, it also has proven to be a valuable learning tool for the students as they practiced their writing and reading skills and learned things about different people.

OVERALL

According to U.S. Census figures, Westmoreland County has a larger population of 65 and older than any other county in the state of Pennsylvania, and the numbers are increasing.

In 2012, 19.6 percent of the county’s estimated 363,000 residents – or about 72,000 people – were age 65 or older, while statewide that year, 16 percent were in that age bracket, according to Census figures. In 2000, only 18 percent of the residents in Westmoreland County were age 65 or older.

While there is a cost to WCHA to offer these programs, it is minimal thanks to the authority’s unique partnerships with the university and school district.

“Our health and wellness programming stress the importance of aging in place and doing it well,” said Washowich. “We want our residents to be as healthy and risk free as they possibly can.”

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For more information, visit www.wchaonline.com



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