Tai chi, an ancient Chinese tradition, is a graceful form of exercise that is growing in popularity in Grant County.

Krish Hamilton has been teaching the “Tai Chi Moving for Better Balance” program at the John Day and Prairie City senior centers for the past year.

The classes are available for free at John Day Senior Center on Mondays following the 12-1 p.m. lunch services and on Thursdays before lunch and at Prairie City Senior Center after the 12-1 p.m luncheon on Wednesdays.

Tai chi is a low-impact exercise, making it a good fit for all ages and abilities.

Hamilton said the movements can be adapted for people sitting in a chair or wheelchair, standing while grabbing a chair or just standing.

Tai chi is a noncompetitive martial art providing gentle physical exercise. It has been shown to improve balance, control, fitness and flexibility and to reduce the risk of falls in older people.

Hamilton said the body can “freeze up” with age and less activity, but the good news is that adding movement, such as tai chi, can reverse that.

She recently led a group of about 12 in a demonstration at the June 15 Grant County Family Health Fair in John Day with people of all ages getting into the flowing motions.

The idea for the tai chi classes, which have been ongoing for the past two years, grew out of a local community partnership called Older Adult and Vulnerable Population Collaborative, a group that meets monthly to share resources to assist Grant County residents.

Family nurse practitioner Nora Healey of Strawberry Wilderness Community Clinic established OVPC with help from co-coordinator Dani Jones, who is a certified medical assistant and community health worker with the local clinic, and Rod Harwood from Pendleton, an older adult behavioral specialist.

Healey established OVPC with the idea of creating better lines of communication with older adults.

She also wanted to explore ways to improve the health and well-being of other area residents.

Healey said their mission statement is: “We’re people passionate about meeting the unique needs of underserved individuals in our communities.”

This can include older adults, people with disabilities, people with mental illness, children and homeless people, she said.

Healey said her idea for OVPC began two years ago when she recognized the growing need to support caregivers who are helping those with dementia.

Workshops for caregivers, including family members, were set up in June of 2017 at Valley View Assisted Living Facility John Day and Blue Mountain Care Center in Prairie City with about 40 attending.

Now the group covers a myriad of topics.

Jones said their June meeting included a presentation about power of attorney and guardianship.

She said agencies gather at the meetings and brainstorm ideas to help the older population and others in need. For example, a People Mover representative came up with the idea to provide free transportation for seniors to tai chi classes.

If someone has an idea for a project, Healey said, they are encouraged to share it at the meeting where the group can discuss resources and ways to get things off the ground.

She gave an example of having older adults read to children, with interaction between the two generations.

There have been anywhere from five to 15 attending the meetings.

“We’re shooting for 40,” Healey said.

Harwood, who works for Greater Oregon Behavioral Health, Inc., and the Older Adult Behavioral Health Initiative, said his travels include eight counties.

“Part of my job is to build better collaboration,” he said.

“There are 10,000 people hitting (age) 65 everyday in this country,” he said. “In Oregon, we recognize that that population is growing.”

He said, although people and agencies interact and coordinate with each other and think they know what other community stakeholders can or will do, it helps to sit down and share resources.

People can “team together” and identify gaps and address needs.

Harwood said he can also provide education, workforce training and set up or help with training meetings.

He helped Healey set up the dementia support workshop.

Tai chi is just one of the successes from the group.

Over the past two years, the program has received grant funding, including $3,000 from the Blue Mountain Healthcare Foundation and $8,000 from the Oregon Office of Rural Health. Last fall, the group received a $10,000 grant from the Oregon Community Foundation.

OVPC also held fundraisers and received in-kind donations, such as the senior centers providing free space for the tai chi classes.

Healey said she’d like to see more involvement in OVPC.

“We’re a senior community, whether people realize it or not,” she said, but added they also want to address the “big mental health crisis in the area,” as well as others in need.

She said collaborating is key.

“The more manpower you have, the better, and we need the help,” she said. “It’s nice to have other people involved.”

OVPC meets 10-11 a.m. on the third Monday of each month at the Department of Human Services conference room at 725 W. Main Street in John Day.

For more information about OVPC, email ovpc@bluemountainhospital.org.

The current tai chi classes will continue through the end of July then start back up Sept. 18 through Dec. 12 in Prairie City, and Sept. 17 through Dec. 13 in John Day.

For more information, call the Prairie City Senior Center at 541-820-4100 or the John Day Senior Center at 541-575-1825.

Angel Carpenter is a reporter for the Blue Mountain Eagle. She can be contacted at angel@bmeagle.com or 541-575-0710.

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