Takin’ it Online!

Rutgers-Newark’s Advocates for Healthy Living Hosts Five-Week Virtual Health and Wellness Series

By Ferlanda Nixon w/Contributers: Diane Hill and Donita Devance

The novel coronavirus pandemic has disrupted life worldwide. With most people encouraged to stay home as much as possible to help slow the spread of the virus, inactivity and isolation can cause serious physical and mental health concerns. This can be especially true among adults who are 65 years of age and older because the opportunity to engage in appropriate social-distancing activities can be challenging. To keep seniors moving, involved, and connected to others, Rutgers-Newark’s Office of University-Community Partnerships (OUCP), Advocates for Healthy Living Initiative (AHLI), and more than two dozen community partners launched Living Your Best Life Virtually on July 6.

Funded in part by a $10,000 seed grant from the Rutgers Global Health Institute, the five-week online series focused on maintaining the health and wellness of older adults during the COVID-19 pandemic. “We have promoted the series as ‘an invitation to eat, drink, and be healthy by getting fit, staying in shape, employing mindful meditation, eating well, and engaging in music therapy featuring live performances by award winning musical artists, all in the comfort of your own home,’” explained Diane Hill, assistant chancellor for university community partnerships at Rutgers-Newark. “Although we target the series to seniors and their caregivers, all are welcome. Living Your Best Life Virtually is free and open to the public, but registration is required.”

More than 350 people participated in sessions that were held three days a week. Pamela Morgan, founder and executive director of Women in Media-Newark, moderated Meditation, Motivation, and Music Mondays, which featured meditation, motivational talks, insights, demonstrations, and rousing music therapy sessions led by Newark’s own Leisa, the One-Woman Band, and the renowned international musical artist and Newark native, Antoinette Montague accompanied by accomplished pianist Danny Mixon.

Moderated by community leaders from various agencies and service areas, Wellness Workshop Wednesdays showcased distinguished physicians and healthcare and aging services experts providing timely information on healthy aging, advice on responding to COVID-19, and details about available services. Community partners from Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences; University Hospital; Rutgers School of Public Health; the Rutgers Institute for Health, Health Care Policy and Aging Research; Robert Wood Johnson Medical Center; Mental Health Association in New Jersey’s Promoting Emotional Wellness and Spirituality (PEWS) Faith-Based Initiatives; Greater Newark senior centers; and state legislators were among the presenters.

Fun, Fitness and Food Fridays provided an opportunity to partake in two midday exercise programs with fitness trainer Crystal Gaynor—stretching and chair exercises and/or Zumba—immediately followed by gardening, healthy food selection, and cooking demonstrations conducted by representatives from the American Heart Association, Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey, Greater Newark Conservancy, and Rutgers-Newark Gourmet Dining.

Living Your Best Life Virtually embodies OUCP’s Transdisciplinary Intergenerational Community Engagement Model, designed to promote sustainable partnerships between university and community. The model emphasizes elements of trust, reciprocity, mutual respect, leveraging resources, and other factors, as it brings together residents and community stakeholders to develop programs responsive to community needs. OUCP worked in tandem with the resident- and stakeholder-driven AHLI, and 27 community partners to design and execute the five-week summer series. Representatives from the partner organizations, as well as, more than a dozen guest presenters, provided content and transdisciplinary expertise. Many express excitement and deep satisfaction. “The program is a great idea,” shared Newarker Rhubie Stoudmire, a loyal AHLI program participant. “A lot of seniors don’t get out much. Now they have something to tune into and be a part of while receiving good information they can use for themselves and pass along to others.” Lorraine Woolridge, also a Newark native, echoed similar sentiments. “The sessions are great and quite helpful. I’ve learned about the coronavirus in general, the importance of wearing masks, how to self-quarantine in the house among noninfected family members, the pros and cons of wearing gloves, and how to disinfect commonly touched spaces and items.” Due to mobility issues, Woolridge especially enjoys the chair exercises. She listens to the sessions from her landline and receives technical assistance from a college student whenever necessary. “It’s certainly rewarding to know that Living Your Best Life Virtually is making a positive impact in the lives of our seniors in Newark,” said Hill. “A virtual platform also allows us to expand our reach beyond Newark, enabling people to tune in no matter where they are,” she added.