Welcome to being human: Age Well kickoff event highlights more than physical health

Kickoff event highlights more than physical health

photo by Katelyn Hibbard/Sun-Gazette During a senior wellness program kickoff event, guest speaker Susan Russell, right, celebrates a 61-year-old woman who continues to cheerlead

Ann. Theresa. Richard. Freida. Joanne. Ted. Edith. Jane. Linda. Bill. Wade.

These folks, and many others, were complete strangers to one another when they showed up to UPMC Susquehanna’s recent kickoff event for its new Age Well senior wellness program.

By the end of the event, however, they all knew so much more about each other, thanks to healthy communication.

“We have to be very willing to cross across a crowded room,” mused Susan Russell, an associate professor in the School of Theatre at Penn State University and co-founder and co-director of the Center for Pedagogy in Arts and Design, who guest-spoke at the event.

Again and again, Russell cruised across the crowded room, filled with more than 100 seniors and multiple health professionals, introducing herself to several audience members and encouraging them to share their thoughts on a variety of topics concerning life in today’s world.

“Hang on, I’m creating a community,” she laughed, as she wove between tables and chairs.

Russell’s goal was to establish peace, joy and a sense of community in a room of strangers. Because physical health is not all there is, she said.

“All I want to do today is bring you the possibility of joy,” she said. “My whole job is to teach people to communicate. To help people feel good enough in a room, good enough in a theater, good enough with themselves, that they can just accept a hand of friendship.”

She complimented a gentleman named Bill on his pressed, sage-colored dress shirt. She encouraged Jane to introduce herself to the strangers sharing a table with her – Ann and Ted. Nearby, she asked a woman named Joanne to tell everyone something fun about herself – Joanne responded she has seven children.

“This process of sitting at a table with people you don’t know – welcome to being human. There’s nothing more beautiful,” Russell said. “We are always in the process of figuring out what it means to be human.”

Russell’s conversation, dubbed “Awake, Aware and Giving,” carried with it the goal of building connections and “opening the door to what’s possible.”

“From the place of connection, all possibility becomes real,” she said. “From that place, all health emerges. It doesn’t take so much effort to build a community. The possibility of world peace is here in the room. The possibility that this group can actually not just affect the group itself, but an entire community of people.”

She found Edith Clark, the oldest audience member at age 91, and asked her:

“At 91, what do you know about the world?”

“I just love it,” Clark, a Susque View volunteer, responded. “I wish I could volunteer more.”

“Edith is still volunteering at 91 – awake to the world she loves, aware that she has something to give, and giving it,” Russell said.

To help build connections, to be awake, aware and to give, Russell encouraged her audience to look at the faces behind positions – to see people, not just health care providers, photographers or the media.

Although people wonder and feel differently, they all wonder and feel, she said.

“Notice the human beings here, who all they want for you is to be your best, well, positive self. What if it’s not as hard as we’re making it? We are simple creatures. We are all the same.”

Age Well is a free membership program for seniors age 55 and up who live near a UPMC Susquehanna hospital. As an Age Well member, seniors will have the opportunity to learn about their personal wellness through access to health care services and providers necessary to be healthy throughout their best years, said Nancie English, Age Well coordinator.

The goal of the program is to teach health and wellness, keep seniors moving and to help them network with one another, English said.

“It’s important we provide them with resources and all these opportunities,” she said. “They’ve done so much for us, and now we want to educate and provide back to them.”

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