There is a palpable sense of excitement in the air as the finishing touches are placed in Plymouth Harbor’s new Wellness Center.   The grand opening, scheduled for September 12th, will highlight the residents who envisioned this Center, the generosity of donors whose financial support made it possible, and the hard work of those who put their hearts, minds, and hands together to bring the vision to life.

It was four years ago that we began to strategically re-define ‘Wellness’ at Plymouth Harbor.  To describe this phase of the journey, we tip our hats with respect and gratitude to residents Lois Droege and Paul Groen.  Lois, with a background in fitness education, taught a popular resident exercise class at Plymouth Harbor for many years.  She and “Dr. Paul,” a retired orthopedic surgeon, were instrumental in helping to develop the plan that would take Plymouth Harbor’s fitness program to a whole new level.

Two things were non-negotiable.  First, the program must meet the highest possible standard for senior fitness programming and, second, the program must be led by someone with the credentials and expertise to develop and maintain it.  Enter Chris Valuck, who was recruited to join the Plymouth Harbor staff as Wellness Director in September 2011.

Chris Valuck and Amanda KirkChris holds a master’s degree in Exercise Science and has spent her career working with a wide range of individuals, mostly seniors, with chronic diseases and disabilities.  She is certified as a Clinical Exercise Specialist through the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM-CES) and a Certified Worksite Wellness Specialist (CWWS) through the National Wellness Institute (NWI).  She also is a Certified Personal Trainer through the American Council on Exercise (ACE) and an Aquatic Fitness Professional, Aquatic Exercise Association (AEA).

In addition to excellent credentials, Chris has experience in cardiac rehabilitation at Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak, Michigan.  She has also worked in high-end, exclusive health clubs, and operated her own personal training business for 16 years.  Many of Chris’s clients were referrals from physicians familiar with her success in working with persons with chronic diseases and disabilities.

As soon as she arrived, Chris set to work establishing protocols, developing a variety of new classes, and establishing the framework for future program expansion.   Within 18 months, the fitness program had grown to the point that a second staff member was warranted and Amanda Kirk joined the department as Wellness Program Assistant.

Amanda earned her bachelor’s degree in Exercise and Sport Science at Coastal Carolina University.  Prior to accepting the position at Plymouth Harbor, Amanda worked at The Lakes at Litchfield, a premier retirement community on Pawleys Island, South Carolina, where she regularly taught a variety of classes to all levels of care, including IL, AL, Skilled and Memory Care.  In addition to teaching classes at Plymouth Harbor, Amanda assists with administrative duties and in the development of the employee wellness program.

Another memorable event was a visit in July 2013 by Jan Montague, an internationally recognized expert in the field, who explored the concept of “Whole-Person Wellness” with residents and staff.  In thought-provoking presentations, Jan shared, “Life is a constant journey for balance to stay well, and staying well is really an inside-out endeavor.”  She emphasized that negativity is actually dangerous, and urged all of us to be careful with the words we use when describing our health, as they tend to be self-fulfilling.  In other words, we get what we focus on. 

As the new vision for Wellness and fitness programming was progressing smoothly, a serendipitous visit by resident Joanne Hastings to President/CEO Harry Hobson sparked the next step in this Wellness journey, a beautiful new 10,000 square foot Wellness Center, now completed.

You’ll see as you enter the Wellness Center the Activity Alcove, a lively space in which to exercise, play, and socialize.  It features a ping pong table and a large flat screen TV with an xBox 360 Kinect gaming system for residents to ‘virtually’ play tennis and golf, bowl, dance and engage in other sports.

Continuing down the corridor, you’ll find the Therapy Pool with a freshly refurbished deck.  The pool, frequently used by residents for therapy and mild exercise, has a brand new hydraulic chair lift to assist when entering and exiting the pool.  An added convenience are the bathing suit spinners located in the restrooms across from the Therapy Pool; no need to wear or carry a wet bathing suit back to your apartment!

Next to the Therapy Pool is the re-configured and updated Wood Shop that now includes an exterior door for easy access and delivery of wood and materials. There’s also an adjacent Hobby Shop for residents who enjoy craft work.

You’ll notice along the flowing corridor two perfectly lighted display walls designed to feature resident art work on a rotating basis.  A bit further and you’ll discover The Commons, a beautifully appointed social area with comfortable furnishings, perfect for chatting with friends or taking a break after your workout.  The nearby Creative Wellness Studio provides a private room for health/fitness assessments and confidential consultations with Wellness Center staff.

To the north of The Commons is the spacious Art Studio featuring 20 artist stations, each equipped with a new table and taboret. Enhanced track lighting, studio lighting for artist models, a teaching area, and a dark room complete this creative new space.

Just south of The Commons is the Group Fitness & Dance Studio.  Natural light pours through floor-to-ceiling windows along the entire south wall, offering a spectacular view of Sarasota Bay.  With a cushioned floor, mirrored walls, and an audio system, this handsome studio is the dedicated space for group fitness and dance classes.  With ample space to move, residents will enjoy Line Dancing, Tai Chi, Sit Fit, Functional Fitness, Total Body Challenge, Better Balance, Body Moves, Yoga, Meditation, Feldenkrais Method®, and more.  The more includes Zumba Gold® and ballroom dancing with professional instructor Jim Helmich.

More floor-to-ceiling windows wrap around the southwest corner of the Wellness Center, allowing that beautiful bay view to serve as a backdrop for the Fitness Room.  Here you’ll find a wide range of brand new cardiovascular equipment such as treadmills, ellipticals, bikes, and Nu-Steps.  Also in this space are two special pieces of equipment by Biodex, a UBE (upper body ergometer) suitable for individuals with limited use of their legs, and the Biodex Balance System for individual balance testing and training.  Keiser pneumatic strength training equipment is in place as well. These special (and easy to use) machines are safer and gentler on the joints than traditional weight machines, making them ideal for a senior population.  Many of the exercise pieces are equipped with televisions and ports for tablets, cell phones, MP3 players, readers and other electronic devices to make workouts enjoyable.  Add mirrored walls to help you monitor proper form during workouts, and, we think you’ll agree—this is beyond compare.

The Plymouth Harbor Wellness Center is a physical embodiment of an entire culture of wellness that has taken root and will continue to evolve at Plymouth Harbor. In fact, there’s more in store with VoyAges, an exciting new, wellness-related program – more to come in the near future!