The Norman Park Senior Center in Chula Vista serves a large and diverse group of older adults and seniors in this city of 266,988 residents in San Diego County. The only designated senior center in the city, it has been an essential part of the city for more than 50 years. The center welcomes all elderly regardless of ability or income levels by supporting its services through federal, state and local grants and partnerships to offer a multitude of free or low cost services.

This one-stop-shop houses its own senior recreation programs to foster continued learning, skill acquisition, independent living, volunteer opportunities and social and community engagement opportunities. Additionally, the center provides valuable services to the elderly, low income families and those with disabilities through its partnerships with a variety of local nonprofit organizations including Elderlaw, Meals on Wheels, Southern Caregivers Resource Center, Parkinson’s Association, AARP, Scripps Mercy Hospital Chula Vista Well Being Center, Silverado Hospice and more.

The County of San Diego Health and Human Services Agency published the San Diego County Senior Health Report, which sheds light on a number of health issues in the county that are affecting our aging population. The Chula Vista Recreation Department began to examine using creative strategies to address these health issues and inspire local seniors to adopt healthier lifestyles with a focus on disease prevention.

In 2012 San Diego County had 14,929 deaths among seniors aged 65 years and older. Heart disease was the leading cause of death among those seniors, followed by cancer. Among the 85-plus years age group the leading cause was also heart disease, followed by cancer and Alzheimer’s. Although there is no cure for Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, several studies have suggested that it is possible to delay or prevent the onset of dementia by practicing brain health strategies. These include eating a balanced diet, managing chronic pain and being physically active.

Norman Park Senior Center traditionally just offered activities and workshops in English and the city wanted to expand its reach to Hispanic and Asian seniors. The recreation department along with the Friends of Chula Vista Parks and Recreation received a grant from the San Diego Foundation’s Health & Human Services Grants Program for Senior Healthcare and Nutrition services for the period of Dec. 1, 2014 through Nov. 30, 2015. These funds enabled the recreation department to offer free health education and fitness programming in English, Spanish and Korean, the primary languages spoken by Chula Vista seniors.

The center leveraged new and existing community partnerships to offer fun and educational classes, presentations, workshops and events on diet and nutrition, physical activity and mental health. The city partnered with local experts to offer eight health and nutrition presentations on topics affecting seniors in cooperation with local health organizations including: Scripps Mercy Wellbeing Center, San Ysidro Health Center and the Alzheimer’s Association.

The grant also funded free bilingual cooking and nutrition classes focused on making simple changes, such as ways to increase consumption of fruits and vegetables, for preventing disease and increasing the quality of life for those with chronic disease. Easy recipes and cooking techniques were demonstrated and sampled to incorporate the nutrition lessons taught at each class. Celebrity Chef Kathleen Choi conducted a bilingual Korean cooking class where she demonstrated and shared the benefits of healthy Asian and Korean cooking. The UCSD Moores Cancer Center provided cooking and nutrition workshops focused on cancer prevention.

Bilingual fitness classes helped increase physical activity in the aging population. Classes included fun and easy dance moves choreographed to Latin, fifties and modern music, a “Holiday Fitness Frenzy” with 10 to 15 minute fitness classes for seniors who don’t exercise regularly or who may be nervous to join a class not knowing what it entails, and yoga classes. These new collaborations provided 150 seniors, who spoke English, Spanish and Korean, with the complete set of tools to live a healthy lifestyle.

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Originally posted at the League of California Cities.