Retirement centers create opportunities for health, faith

Betty Goodwin just wants to stay healthy.

At 93 years old, she makes it a point each day to keep her body, mind and spirit in the best shape possible. Her mother lived to be 98, and Goodwin, a member of St. Margaret Mary Parish in Omaha, said she expects to at least match that.

"It’s about self-respect," she said. "I always want to do the best that I can do, and that includes taking care of myself."

Staying healthy, Goodwin said, is easy to do while living at New Cassel Retirement Center, which offers ample opportunities for exercise, socializing and growing in faith.

Similar offerings can be found at several faith-based homes for seniors in Omaha, including the archdiocese’s St. John Vianney Residence and Seven Oaks at Notre Dame, founded by the Notre Dame sisters.

Goodwin attends an exercise class twice a week at New Cassel and prays daily while walking each morning around the outside of the building. She plays a three-hour game of pitch once a week with friends, attends Mass four times a week and prays the rosary in the center’s chapel. During Advent and Lent, she attends presentations on the Catholic faith, and has participated in Scripture studies.

"I would feel like I was really cutting myself off from the world if I didn’t continue being active," she said.

Research shows that active, older adults can learn to delay and manage the onset of chronic disease, and enjoy measurable improvements in their physical, social, spiritual, emotional, mental and economic well-being, said Brenda Stanislaw, program director for Notre Dame Housing Inc., which runs Seven Oaks and serves low- to moderate-income seniors in North Omaha.

New Cassel – founded by the School Sisters of St. Francis – Seven Oaks and St. John Vianney Residence all take a holistic approach to serving seniors – by providing care for their bodies, minds and souls.

Exercise classes and health programs help seniors continue to live independently and complete daily tasks, while card games, crafts and social outings keep the mind strong.

Continuing to foster a relationship with God also is important when it comes to maintaining seniors’ overall health, said Glenda Hallberg, program director at New Cassel, which also provides assisted living and adult day care. Offerings such as Mass and rosary, interfaith services and Scripture studies help them do that, she said.

Although the senior residences provide many of the same offerings, each brings unique ones as well.

Seven Oaks, for example, gives residents an opportunity to live with retired Notre Dame Sisters. Notre Dame Housing also provides meals, a food pantry and mental health and substance abuse services, Stanislaw said. Services are open to residents of Seven Oaks and the local community through the Seven Oaks Senior Center, she said.

Residents at St. John Vianney Residence have an added bonus of living among retired priests, who often provide spiritual direction and hear confessions, said Buffy Selvy, facility director. They also watch movies and Husker football games together, she said.

And many seniors at New Cassel rock babies at a local Montessori school, and mentor elementary school students who might not otherwise interact with older adults

"We believe it is mentally healthy to remember that God gave each of us our own unique mix of talents and gifts," Hallberg said. "Just because we are now 80 or 90 doesn’t mean we are no longer called to use them."

Ultimately, when it comes to aging, people shouldn’t be reduced to their health status as an identity, Hallberg said. Instead, they should be seen wholly as God made them, she said.

"Moving into a retirement setting doesn’t mean residents need to give up or lose those activities they enjoy," Hallberg said. "In fact, sometimes making the move can mean they now can refocus on those activities and practices they have let go or not had the time to spend on but that had been important to them."

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