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Grant Supports Healthy Aging Workshops in the Berkshires

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Elder Services of Berkshire County, Inc.

A community group for the elderly in Western Massachusetts is receiving a grant to help educate its members about healthy aging habits and lifestyle.

The Tufts Health Plan Foundation recently awarded Elder Services of Berkshire County a $65,000 grant to support public programs that help seniors address nutrition and chronic diseases. Foundation Director of Grants and Operations Anne Marie Boursiquot King says her non-profit organization has been supporting these programs statewide since 2009.

“Health and wellness, purposeful engagement, and empowerment are things that I would call functional to aging well," said Boursiquot King.

This is the second straight year Elder Services has been able to provide these programs with funding from the Foundation. Two-and-a-half-hour workshops are held over a period of six weeks in towns across Berkshire County. The Healthy Eating program offers small, 12-person workshops on individualized nutrition plans, understanding food labels, and exercises geared towards maintaining good heart and bone health. Maria Connors is the Healthy Aging Program coordinator for the Elder Services of Berkshire County. She says the healthy eating workshops end with a luncheon designed to inspire smart nutritional choices, like one at Baba Louie’s Pizza in Pittsfield.

“We worked with the chef there to build a menu based on the my plate guide," Connors said. "It was so fun, because we sort of walked the walk that day after all those weeks of learning about this stuff.”

The My Life, My Health program focuses on dealing with chronic diseases in small workshops of about four people. Connors says whether seniors suffer from arthritis, osteoporosis, or high blood pressure, many involve similar symptoms that can be linked to each other.

“We introduce the program with a symptom cycle," she said. "These different symptoms feed on each other. If you’re depressed you’re going to feel fatigued, if you’re depressed you’re not going to be eating as well as you should.”

She says the workshops use a self-management toolbox to help people understand what getting older means and how to adjust their lives in order to take charge of their own aging.

“It’s a workshop in empowering yourself," she said. "Understanding what you have control over and what you don’t.”

Connors says she is able to see that empowerment firsthand.

“I see the change over the weeks," she said. "You see them become a little bit brighter, and a little bit more enthusiastic about what they’re doing, not so scared of some things.”

Connors says the program is more than just about nutrition and health. It’s about coming to terms with getting older.

“One lady, one of her issues was speaking with her family members about end of life wishes and insurance issues," Connors said. "She was genuinely terrified. She told me this workshop, by working on all these other things it gave her the confidence to say ‘Hey, I have a voice here, and I’m able to make my decisions and they’re going to listen to me.”

Workshops are currently in swing and will continue throughout Berkshire County until next July under the current funding. More information can be found at esbci.org or at Maria Connors office at 413-499-9730.