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North Hills Monthly

Healthy Start Café Provides Wellness Opportunities for Seniors

Jan 01, 2017 02:24PM ● By North Hills Monthly magazine

Pastor William Diehm of St. John’s Lutheran Church of Highland in McCandless was looking for a viable way to expand an exercise program that his church had been operating for the last nine years. Terry Mann, director of the Lutheran Service Society (LSS), was looking for a satellite location in the North Hills to expand an existing program. 

When the two men realized that their visions and needs aligned, a partnership was formed that has blossomed into a unique and innovative way for local seniors to improve their health and well-being. 

Dubbed The Healthy Start Café, the program, which is an extension of an existing program offered in other locations by the Lutheran Service Society, provides socialization opportunities, exercise classes and other health and wellness activities for those age 60 and over. 

Funding for the satellite program is provided by an existing contract that LSS has with the Allegheny County Area Agency for Aging and from donations to the Lutheran Service Society. Additionally, the café received a three-month funding grant from the Passavant Hospital Foundation, a nonprofit organization in McCandless. 

It was Patty Davidson, Lutheran SeniorLife’s health and wellness ministry coordinator, who originally introduced Mann and Diehm after realizing that the two men could collaborate to make their individual goals a reality. 

“Part of my responsibility as health and wellness ministry coordinator is to go into our congregations and determine what their needs are,” said Davidson. “In talking with Pastor Diehm, I knew that he felt that the space in his church was being under-used, and I also knew that Terry Mann was looking for a place to expand programming offered by the Lutheran Service Society, so I introduced them to one another.” 

It took 1-1/2 years for the two men to work out the details of their plan and to obtain funding. As part of their collaboration, St. John’s provides the space needed to operate the program, and the Lutheran Service Society provides the staffing and supplies. Thanks to this cooperative effort, The Healthy Start Café has now been operational for three months. 

“People who have been using it have told us that they love it and don’t know what they’d do if we stopped offering it,” said Mann. Because the café has been so well received, Mann said that a decision was recently made to seek additional grant money and alternative funding to keep it operating. 

The café is open every Monday and Thursday to anyone aged 60 or older. The doors open at 8:45 a.m., and seniors who attend are greeted with a healthy breakfast. “The smoothies, the coffee and the healthy snacks are a way to welcome people,” said Diehm. 

For the next hour, seniors can socialize and an hour later, an exercise class is offered for those who choose to stay. Prior to their collaboration with the Lutheran Service Society, Diehm said that the exercise program had 20 to 30 regular attendees. Since the launch of Healthy Start Café, an additional 15 people have joined the program. 

“We have some new faces and new people, which was our goal when we started all of this,” said Diehm.

Both Mann and Diehm said that they hope to expand the services being offered at the café to include guest speakers on health and wellness-related topics and even field trips designed to promote health. Input will be obtained from existing participants before any changes are made to the program. 

“The best feedback we can get is from those who came to try it out for the first time and are still coming back,” Diehm said. “We’re doing what we had hoped to do–meeting our mission of staying young while having fun–and we’re excited to see what comes next.”

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