“Use it or lose it” could be the official mantra for muscle mass and bone health as we age, because beginning as early as our 30’s, bone density and muscle tone begin to decrease simply from the aging process.  As more and more birthdays pass, staying fit and active becomes more important for older adults to remain independent as long as possible. 

To help older adults regain or maintain their fit and active lifestyle, ElderCircle has offered nationally recognized Bone Builders since 2009. By 2020, the program had grown to 15 sites in Itasca and Koochiching Counties, all led by a crew of 75 volunteers touching about 300 older adults each year.

Early in 2020, the program was set to transition to the evidence-based Stay Active & Independent for Life (SAIL) program with 75 volunteers registered to attend seven volunteer trainings throughout the two counties.  Along comes COVID-19 related shutdown and the trainings were cancelled and all Bone Builders sessions were suspended.  “Having to cancel was hugely disappointing,” said Volunteer Services Director Lisa Randall.  “Volunteers are so committed to this program, having to cancel still stings.”

As the pandemic went on and ElderCircle shifted to hosting support groups, wellness classes and other meetings via video conferencing, it was decided to do the same with SAIL.  “I was skeptical about hosting exercise sessions via video conference, but knew it was worth the attempt,” stated Randall. “We didn’t know how long the pandemic would keep us distanced and heading into what looked like a long, isolated winter, we moved ahead to make SAIL available virtually.

By September, there were five previous Bone Builders leaders ready to pioneer the way for providing SAIL exercise sessions via video conference.  By October, the SAIL volunteers were meeting twice a week virtually to practice the sessions and work out the bugs of leading virtual sessions.  In early December, SAIL was launched to all previous Bone Builders volunteers, and by the end of the year, there were 21 participants in the two groups.

Knowing that technology for video conferencing may be a barrier, ElderCircle secured a grant to purchase iPads which provided a technology lending library.  We are able to ‘lend’ an iPad to volunteers and/or participants who would like to attend any of ElderCircle’s virtual health and wellness options which also include; SAIL, Tai Ji, Hypertension Management, Living Well with Chronic Conditions, Chronic Pain and Living Well with Diabetes.  The ipads are cellular and WiFi capable. 

“We are so excited to be able to offer virtual options to attend these sessions, which we can only do because of volunteers--they are the back bone of this program,” stated Renee Bymark, Executive Director.  “We want to celebrate the positive impact that volunteers have on our community.  Volunteers inspire us every day.  April is National Volunteer Month and is dedicated to celebrating volunteerism.  Without volunteers donating their time and passion to causes they care about, we would not be able to offer programs like SAIL.  Volunteers make so much possible and deserve our appreciation.  We want to thank each and every one of them from the bottom of our heart.  

SAIL and ElderCircle’s many other wellness classes will continue to be available virtually until live, in-person sessions can resume.  If you have questions about SAIL, Wellness classes or volunteerism, contact ElderCircle at 218-999-9233 or ecircle@eldercircle.org.

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