SAIL program helps rejuvenate area seniors

A group of area women, sometimes numbering close to 20, turn out Monday and Wednesday morning for a fitness class in Canton. CHARLIE WARNER/NEWS LEADER
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Every Monday and Wednesday morning the basement fellowship area of the Canton-Scotland Presbyterian Church is a flurry of activity. Various types of upbeat music, including polkas, ‘50s and ‘60s rock and roll and country western swing can be heard. No, it’s not a hootenanny. And no, it’s not a fledgling garage band practicing for its first gig.

Some 15 to 20 senior citizens spend an hour bending, stretching, lifting weights and dancing in an effort to improve their balance, strength and fitness.

They are participating in the SAIL Program, sponsored by Catholic Charities of Southeast Minnesota. SAIL stands for Stay Active and Independent for Life. The program, designed to keep seniors energized and fit, is funded through grants from the State of Minnesota.

Currently, there are two SAIL sites in Fillmore County; the one in Canton and another in Chatfield. Tina Kerns oversees the program in the county.

“It’s a great program and we are very pleased with the response we have seen,” Kerns said. “When we talked about starting a program in this part of the county, we felt if we could start out with five or six people, that would be a good start. The first day, we had 15 and we’ve had as many as 20 at our Canton site.”

Currently, it’s an all-female group, with women hailing from Canton, Prosper, Mabel, Harmony and Lanesboro. “We’d love to have some men join our group, but so far, that hasn’t happened,” Kerns noted.

Two Canton-area women, Randean Pastwa and Vergene Kelly, have volunteered their services as the session leaders. Kerns explained the two women had about three hours of training to learn the various types of exercises that would be most beneficial to help reduce the chances of falling.

“When we discussed possible volunteer leaders, I thought of my mother (Vergene Kelly) right away,” Kerns noted. “Mom is so outgoing and enjoys helping others.”

Pastwa’s name was also brought up and both ladies bought into the idea right away. According to Kerns, both volunteer leaders seem to be enjoying the fitness sessions as much as the seniors.

“The ladies (senior participants) love it,” Kerns reported. “They tell me they look forward to the Monday and Wednesday sessions and they all have told me they are seeing some wonderful benefits from the sessions.”

Utilizing chairs, the seniors do a series of knee bends, heel to toe exercises, standing on one foot, then the other, stepping forward and backwards and moving from side to side. They also use hand and ankle weights to help with strength training and also enjoy a rousing session of the Chicken Dance, where they move around the room, twist and dance.

Kerns noted programs similar to the SAIL Program have been offered in other parts of the county. She heard of one lady who was told by her doctor that she would be wheelchair bound the rest of her life. She enrolled in a similar program and is now moving around quite nicely without the aid of a wheelchair.

The SAIL site in Chatfield hasn’t experienced as much interest as the Canton site, according to Kerns. About 10 people have been taking part with that site each day. When asked if she’s planning on organizing additional sites in the county, Kerns said if they can find facilities in other communities to hold them in, she will certainly consider it.

Because of the limited funding, the sites must be rent free. Kerns said the Canton-Scotland Presbyterian Church is a perfect location, with a kitchen and dining area adjacent to the exercise room. Following the hour-long workout, the ladies sit down for coffee and treats and spend at least an hour socializing.

“The socializing aspect is just as important as the fitness aspect,” Kerns said. “It is so good for our seniors to get out of the house, spend some time with physical activity and also be with other people. Having this program here in Canton is great because you don’t always get these types of programs offered to people in small communities.”

Kerns added there is plenty of room for more participants at the Canton site. There is no charge and all individuals, age 55 and older, are welcome.