CHAT offers senior socialization and education

Empath Health CHAT Participants Jeanetta Nunn Andry and Brenda Huffman

By LaShante Keys, Empath Health Community Partnership Specialist

ST. PETERSBURG — It is beautiful to see neighbors connect and receive the community resources they need to prosper. Many of our elderly living alone don’t have access to resources. That is why our CHAT (Community Health Access Talk) program is so important to seniors.

Kelly Siegel, a fellow Empath Health community partnership specialist, has run a CHAT program for about three years at a local residential community. These monthly meetings open the door to fellowship, information, discussion and fun.

“This group has been one of my longest. We like to play bingo. I bring a savory snack and a sweet snack. I bring a special concoction of unsweet tea and blackberry lemonade that we mix. Sharing of food, drink, and laughter is an important ritual. Once you do that with people, they can relax and talk about anything,” Siegel explained.

Attendees learn about the broad spectrum of Empath Health programs and services.

“I pick a mini-topic. I ask, ‘Did you know we have a Suncoast Hospice Integrative Medicine Clinic? Did you know we use our volunteers in these ways? Did you know our Suncoast PACE program has an artist who teaches painting classes?'” Siegel noted.

The group also shares stories of their hospice care experiences, grief and lives.

“I do holiday blues as a topic every year. Many of the residents are single and alone. That’s a life change. They may miss the big family gatherings, big meals, rituals and loved ones. Recognizing that may be why they feel sad and getting them prepared for those thoughts can lessen the intensity,” she added.

Neighbors Jeanetta Nunn Andry and Brenda Huffman are retired and formerly from Michigan. They were among the first people to move into this residential community about five years ago.

Andry maintains an active and social life focused on family and friends. She keeps in contact with her many family members, goes shopping, listens to music, visits and helps out her neighbors, celebrates birthdays and attends CHAT and other residential activities. She benefits from CHAT education and conversations.

“It helps when Kelly sits down and goes through programs and questions. We laugh, play games and have fun with her. We can mingle with each other. We get to voice our opinions about things in life. It’s like an extension of friendship. There are people here who need that connection. Since my mother has passed, not quite two years ago, it really helps to talk with other people,” Andry said.

She especially has appreciated information about Empath Health care, medical planning and other services through CHAT and the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Gospel Health Breakfast held in St. Petersburg.

“Kelly has talked about the pet volunteer program and living wills, which are necessary. Very few of us knew there were Resale Shops, and I’m going to put those on my list to do. I’m thinking about being part of PACE. The celebration for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was so nice. They had people perform, and there was information about Empath programs. It was very educational and enjoyable,” she shared.

Huffman’s life is concentrated on service, faith, culture and wellness. She volunteers for the YMCA, an elementary school and a ministry, attends church, goes to the theater, participates in Zumba, line dancing, workshops and more at the YMCA and participates in CHAT. She values CHAT information and stimulation.

The holiday blues CHAT particularly resonated with her.

“One of the CHAT sessions that really stood out was about depression and sadness that sometimes comes over people during the holidays. We old people think about memories of what we used to do as kids or what we used to do with our kids and families. It really was a blessing to confront that. She talked about having new traditions,” she said.

She and the group have benefited from getting together to learn about Empath Health.

“I like what Empath is doing and that it’s an option. Having Kelly come out to us once a month is a blessing. Her activities promote the social aspect with neighbors. Sometimes we tend to isolate ourselves in our apartments, and this does bring us out for laughter and fun. I believe in lifelong learning. I appreciate any nuggets that she can bring to us. The information is always timely, encouraging and challenging,” Huffman expressed.

To learn more about the Empath Health network, visit EmpathHealth.org or call (727) 523-3427 to schedule a community presentation.

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