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Orlando Ballet Steps Up Instructional Routine with Adaptive Dance Program

Every Saturday, a small group of enthusiastic students arrive at an Orlando Ballet studio ready to dance in a special hour-long class. Some wear tutus and tights, some wear colored tape on their ballet flats to distinguish left from right; but all wear a joyful smile. The tiny dancers are a part of the Adaptive Dance Program designed to encourage children (ages 7-14) with Down syndrome to express themselves creatively through music, movement and dance. Modeled after the Boston Ballet’s effort, the Orlando program launched in 2013 and offers two10-week sessions at the Orlando Ballet’s south campus in Dr. Phillips.

Randee Workowski, Orlando Ballet’s outreach coordinator and an Adaptive Dance instructor, is mindful of the student’s developmental delays and uses a gentler instructional pace and curriculum. “Our students may struggle with balance or not have bilateral coordination,” she explains. Thus, Workowski says the course begins with simple stability exercise and stretching but, over time as with all dancers, repetition builds physical and emotional strength allowing the dancers to advance.

Workowski says she uses more of a theatrical approach versus traditional ballet training. However, the Adaptive Dance students are, indeed, taught classic ballet moves and proper terminology (i.e. chasse, plié, pirouette, etc.). “We try to give them as much professional dancing and technical skills as possible,” Workowski says. That includes ballet (and some jazz) exercises on both the bar and dance floor. Many students prefer to dance independently but, for those who want or need physical help, assistant ballerinas working alongside the instructor provide hands-on support.

“We really see the progression happen when students stay with it.” – Randee Workowski

Parents say their kids look forward to the weekly sessions and practicing at home. “That is an affirmation that we are doing something wonderful,” declares Workowski. Windermere resident and mother of three, Marit Loessl attests to that declaring that her son,13-year-old Frederik Raaberg, who has Down syndrome, Type 1 diabetes and celiac disease, has loved dancing in the program for the past four years. “This class works on all types of dance ─ not only ballet. It includes warm-up, stretching, balancing, jumping, skipping, listening, following directions, rhythm, musicality with several different music genres…all combined in one class,” Loessl describes. She’s noticed improvements to Frederick’s balance, coordination, expression and self-esteem.

Come Dance with Us participants with Orlando Ballet Company’s Ashley Baszto.                                Photo by Francesca Agostino.

‍“We really see the progression happen when students stay with it,” Workowski says. And that might lead to typical class inclusion. “Orlando Ballet is willing to have [adaptive] children progress into a typical class when they are ready. We would love to mainstream and that’s a possibility. In fact, we do have a 14-year-old student who’s been in Adaptive Dance and is now enrolling in the pre-professional program.”

Last year, Anne-Marie Wurzel, whose daughter has special needs, encouraged the Orlando Ballet to host a Come Dance With Us workshop, an effort first launched by the New York City Ballet for children with disabilities. In partnership with physical therapists from Nemours Children’s Hospital and Orlando Health, Orlando Ballet welcomed children with wheelchairs, leg braces and an array of special needs to live out their ballerina dreams alongside professional Orlando Ballet Company dancers, including Arcadian Broad. “I never in a million years would I have imagined saying ‘my daughter is in a ballet,’” Ninoshka Goire shared; her daughter has spina bifida. “It was a very surreal moment seeing her dancing with the ballerinas. That was something that lived in my dreams.” The next Come Dance With Us workshop will be held on October 15 and 22 at the Orlando Ballet’s central campus in downtown Orlando. For more information on both the Adaptive Dance Program and Come Dance With Us workshop, visit

Photo credits – Preview image & Image above: Come Dance with Us participant(s) with Orlando Ballet Company’s Ashley Baszto. Photo by Francesca Agostino.

Seniors Connect With Computer Classes


Technology is second nature for younger generations who are accustom to computers, cellular phones, video game consoles and more. For many seniors, however, the ever-changing world of computer-based technology can feel foreign. In May 2017, a Pew Research study revealed significant increases of tech use among older adults, citing that roughly two-thirds of those ages 65 and older go online – a 55 percent increase in just under two decades.

Perhaps the increase of technology adoption among older adults may be attributed, in part, to helpful organizations like Seniors Now Learning Center, a volunteer-run nonprofit offering instructional courses in various computer subjects and more. “We’re an organization of seniors teaching seniors,” described Zed Troth, who serves as the nonprofit’s president. At 52, Zed and his wife, Kim, are the only volunteers technically not yet classified as seniors. Working in the business field of computers, Zed connected with Seniors Now simply wanting to aid others interested in obtaining computer-based knowledge. “I run a full-time business apart from donating 100 hours a month to run the Seniors Now organization,” he explains. And, as senior students can attest, his efforts are making a difference!

“Zed and his wife are very knowledgeable,” says Teri Mahon, a 71-year-old WinterSprings resident. “I’ve [also] gone to classes at the Apple store and I had better experience taking classes with Seniors Now.” Students like Teri respond to the instructional approach of Seniors Now. Held at the Marks Street Senior Center in Orange County, classes are limited to ten students with one instructor and typically an additional two to four coaches (i.e. assistants). “Where we differ is that we’re not just a teacher standing up lecturing to a large class. We employ multiple coaches in addition to the teacher, so it’s unique in that we are somewhat closer to a one-on-one learning experience,” Zed said. Classes are taught at a gentler pace whereas, as with Teri’s experience at Apple, classes taught by other technology companies can feel too advanced or too fast-paced for novice computer users.

Seniors Now assists about 500 students per year with a volunteer staff of five instructors, fifteen coaches and other administrative helpers. The majority of students, says Zed, have never touched a computer and, thus, the three most popular courses are: Introduction to Computers, Exploring Your Computer and Introduction to the iPad. Seniors Now offers twelve classes, ranging from basic use of the internet and email to advanced courses on specific software and online tools. “Once a person learns how to send an email and work the internet, the sky becomes the limit because they can teach themselves [via the internet] from there,” declares Zed. While he acknowledges that computers can feel intimidating to seniors, he reiterates that gaining minimal computer skills can maximize opportunities for one’s passions. For example, access to the internet can help one learn about gardening, sewing, fishing or any other personal hobby.

Senior couple using the computer to find hobbies and search the internet

While computers may be used for hobbies, Teri believes they’ve become a necessity. “I think it’s more of a survival for us as seniors,” she said. “For example, I just went up north and had an airline ticket and, of course, the airline wants you to print it out before you get there. You can’t do things like that if you don’t know how. It’s those kinds of daily encounters ─ and other directives to visit websites [for information] ─ that makes it vital for seniors to stay apprised of technology.” Over the past four years, Teri’s taken three courses with Seniors Now, including Introduction to the iPad. She’s planning to enroll in the Using Your Digital Photos class because, nowadays, she uses her smartphone for photography rather than a camera.

Seniors Now was founded twenty years ago, which directly correlates to the time frame of the Pew Research study. However, while this progress is wonderful, the remaining one-third of adults ages 65 and older surveyed said they never use the internet, with about half saying that broadband services were not even installed at home. But Seniors Now can help! For more information, visit or call (407) 318-3256.

Photo above: Students of Seniors Now at Mark St.

Whispering Meadows Ranch Saddles Up for Life-Changing Rides

Kristine Aguirre humbly says her family’s goodwill steered their way to their innovative family-run charity. “My mom and I were both volunteering with horses and discovered the beautiful system of equine-assisted therapy,” she recalls. The mother-daughter duo traveled across the state of Florida from their home in Flagler Beach to Ocala to earn instructor certification through the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International, the credentialing authority of equine-assisted therapy specialists. Then, in 2008, Kristine and her parents, Helene and Richard Davis, transformed their family farm into Whispering Meadows Ranch, a nonprofit property dedicated to enriching the lives of those with disabilities through recreational and educational equine-assisted programs and activities.

“We grew from one rider, in 2009, to [being at] full capacity today with 35 weekly riders with four horses,” says Kristine, who serves as the program director alongside 35-45 volunteers. The ranch offers therapeutic horseback riding, horsemanship, a work program and school outreach, in addition to special events like the upcoming Fall Harvest Celebration.

“We customize each lesson plan to the client’s needs and establish goals that increase well-being and confidence,” says Kristine. According to Whispering Meadows, research supports that students who participate in therapeutic riding experience physical, emotional and mental rewards. “Horses have a gait similar to humans so hips move as if you were walking, which is important to help individuals with balance, flexibility and strength,” Kristine describes. She says that horses “talk” to people with their bodies and, thus, is a language that people can learn to “speak” regardless of verbal and/or other disabilities. Whispering Meadows has a wheelchair-accessible mounting ramp, in addition to adaptive harnesses, belts and other gear designed to give participants of all abilities safe and enjoyable riding experiences.

Girl with Cerebral Palsy taking horseback riding lessons at Whispering Meadows

Seven-year-old Avery, who has cerebral palsy, has taken lessons at Whispering Meadows for five years. “We go to gain strength, balance and control of Avery’s body. She really likes going out to the ranch because it doesn’t feel like therapy,” says her mother Adrienne Bishop, who describes the Aguirre/Davis family as incredible supporters of all visitors. Avery rides on her stomach and grips the adaptive reins near the horse’s core rather than above the animal’s neck. She does sit-ups, truck rotations and other strengthening exercises with the horse and therapists.

“We customize each lesson plan to the client’s needs and establish goals that increase well-being and confidence.” – Kristine Aguirre

Designed for people with both physical and cognitive special needs, the tranquil ranch grounds are lined with oak trees, green pastures and trails believed to naturally serve as a soothing environment for individuals with sensory disabilities and autism spectrum disorder, paired with the calming engagement of the horses. For example, the mother of an autistic participant testified that on the days her son comes to the ranch, he doesn’t experience involuntary tics.

Whispering Meadows also offers horsemanship. These non-riding lessons incorporate therapeutic human-horse interaction to develop strength, endurance and a sense of accomplishment. “We teach how to care for an animal, like feeding, grooming, exercising the horse and barn management. If the participant is interested in progressing, riding can be a reward that we build up to,” says Kristine. Other ranch amenities ─ used by both schools and individuals ─ include a sensory garden, campfire pit, music and crafts.

Designed for young adults with disabilities, Whispering Meadows also facilitates a work-style training program to enhance basic job skills with a focus on teamwork, responsibility and socialization. Workers learn about barn and garden duties, horse care and proper equipment use. Vito and Thomas, 24-year-old twins with cognitive impairments, have been involved with the work program for five years. “My sons enjoy being a part of a loving family. They have the ability to be who they truly are at the ranch,” says their mother Barbara Quadara of the nurturing Aguirre/Davis family. She adds, “The ranch teaches them to respect one another, and to show patience and love for all things.” Barbara says her sons have hands-on opportunities to learn a lot, such as lawn mowing, gardening, woodworking, horsemanship, horse riding, golf cart driving and more. “I could never express my gratitude and love for all that they have done for my children,” Barbara proclaims.

These programs are made possible thanks to funding from the Kiwanis Club, area foundations, and personal donations, along with volunteer support. You can further the mission by sponsoring a rider or contributing a facility wish list item (land and animal care needs). Visit

The “Freedom” of Adaptive Adventures


Adaptive Adventures provides progressive outdoor sports opportunities to improve the quality of life for individuals with physical disabilities and their families. Founder Matt Feeney knows firsthand how impactful adaptive recreation can be for persons with impairments. An avid mountain biker and skier, Feeney says that sports have always been part of his life ─ traditionally as a youth and, now, adaptively as an adult. In 1988, at the age of 25, Feeney sustained a spinal cord injury following a cliff diving accident while vacationing, which caused paralysis from the waist down. “My first thoughts were not about whether I could have a career or a family; my first thoughts were about whether I would be able to participant in sports. Without the use of my legs, how would I be able to ski or do all of these things that I liked doing?” he recalls pondering.

Soon after, Feeney left his financial job in Denver and moved northwest to Winter Park, Colorado to pursue adaptive ski racing. “The most difficult thing that I’ve ever done in my life is relearn how to ski as a paraplegic in what’s called a monoski,” he declares. A monoski has a mounted seat attached to a single ski and shock absorber frame and is steered by outrigger poles. “Monoskiinggave me freedom! Once I was able to do it independently, it opened up a whole new world,” Feeney explains. He competed with the Winter Park Disabled Ski Team and, later, launched a career as an adaptive sports enthusiast as a ski instructor for the National Sports Center for the Disabled. “I was re-taught by able-bodied people but it made sense that I could teach adaptive skiing more effectively in a seated position by relating to the participants a little better because we faced the same challenges,” he says.

“Monoskiing gave me freedom! Once I was able to do it independently, it opened up a whole new world.” – Matt Feeney

He loved the sport so much and wanted to share it so, in1999, he established Adaptive Adventures, a nonprofit aimed to empower individuals with physical disabilities through the freedom of mobility and sports to, ultimately, build confidence and gain inspiration to accomplish their life goals. “Part of the philosophy of Adaptive Adventures is the socialization ─ bringing people together from all over the country that enjoy outdoor sports and share their stories,” he says, adding: “When I am out of my wheelchair and in my monoski, I can go anywhere on the mountain. And it’s the same with scuba diving or other sports; once I get my gear on, it’s freedom… total freedom. It’s very liberating and I want to give that to others.”

Monoskier with Adaptive Adventures

Adaptive Adventures began hosting occasional ski camps and, today, has grown to serve approximately 2,000 participants through 200 events with skiing, snowboarding, climbing, cycling, dragon boat racing, kayaking, paddle boarding, rafting, sailing, water skiing and wakeboarding. “Now, because of the demand, we started adding weekly events in Denver,” says Feeney. Participants of all abilities are welcome and provided opportunities to progress, if desired, at their own pace. For example, one might start with a spin class, then join a weekly handcycle ride (by themselves, with a guide or in a group) and, eventually, partake in a 400-mile weeklong bike tour through the mountains.

Girl in an adaptive wakeboard in Denver

Weekly programs are focused in Denver, Colorado and the Greater Chicago area, however the organization works with partners to make adaptive recreation accessible nationwide. “The great thing about Adaptive Adventures is that we’re a very mobile program and have a plethora of trailers full of adaptive gear to help others host events throughout the country.” Funding for Adaptive Adventures comes from three organizational fundraisers, corporate sponsors, grants and individual giving. To learn more or to donate,

Game On! Endless Possibilities Champions Adaptive Sports in South Florida


Denise De Mello spends much of her time on the boccia court at the Club Managers Association of America Therapeutic Recreation Complex, a Paralympic sports facility equipped with a swimming pool, athletic center and adaptive equipment rentals in Lake Worth, Florida. Not familiar with boccia? “It’s similar to the Italian game of bocce. It’s an interesting game with hand-eye coordination,” says Denise. Played indoors, boccia athletes throw, kick or use an assistive device to propel leather balls as close as possible to a white target ball (the jack). “I hadn’t played wheelchair sports before, so I thought this sport was a good introduction,” she explains. Denise was initially misdiagnosed with cerebral palsy before doctors discovered that her disability actually stemmed from a benign tumor on her spinal cord; but the now 57-year-old hasn’t let her disability slow her down.

Denise learned about adaptive recreation about seven years ago at a gathering of people with physical disabilities. “I got involved [in the group] because I wanted to be more active,” she explains. That objective was shared and, so, the informal assembly formerly obtained 501(c)(3) nonprofit status as Endless Possibilities, an organization that provides adaptive sports and recreation.

Endless Possibilities started with wheelchair rugby play. “The game was first developed in Canada as a team sport for quadriplegic athletes, and was originally known as ‘murderball.’ It was a very intense game of players in metal wheelchairs going full speed on a court crashing into each other,” Denise describes. While a level of competitive enthusiasm remains, though with a new focus on positive teamwork, the sport ─ known in the U.S. as quad rugby or wheelchair rugby ─ challenges players to bounce or pass a ball every 10 seconds to, ultimately, carry it across the opponent’s goal line to score.

Endless possibilities wheelchair basketball team playing

Endless Possibilities now offers eight programs: boccia, as described above; goalball, a court game played by visually impaired athletes using an audible ball; handcycling, using an upper-body powered bicycle; power soccer, an indoor version for power wheelchair users; sitting volleyball, adaptive with a lower net and players seated on the court floor; sled hockey, a sit-down version of the sport with two sticks dually used for mobility and play; wheelchair basketball, similar to traditional play for wheelchair users; and wheelchair (or quad) rugby, as previously defined. “Our vision is to expand to include more Paralympicsports,” Denise declares. Endless Possibilities’ programs are offered year-round typically with one to two opportunities per week and are co-ed. Currently, about 100 members ─ ranging from teenagers to seniors ─ participate in both recreational and competitive play depending on the sport.

Endless Possibilities welcomes all individuals with physical disabilities regardless of sport skill level. “We encourage you to come out and at least try something. Every time a new person comes out, they get a big happy smile and say ‘I never thought I could do that!’ We want people to try as many sports as they want to experience that sense of enjoyment,” Denise says. Additionally, members gather socially. “Our monthly meetings are more of a peer support to talk about what’s been going on with one another. We talk about new technology and what is available in [adaptive] sports. But’s it’s a social gathering with people who face similar things so we talk about much more than sports.”

Thanks to support from the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation, monetary grants and private donations, membership is free! “Endless Possibilities is run completely by volunteers who want to help out, make sure our chairs are working fine for members and are focused on helping to put 100% of donations back into the programs so everyone can participate at no cost,” Denise proclaims. To learn more or to contribute, visit

Surfers For Autism Ride Impactful Waves


In 2008, not long after Damian Richter’s autism diagnosis, his mother Tracy Bastante heard about an inaugural surf event hosted by Surfers For Autism, a nonprofit organization pairing volunteer surfers with children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), a group of developmental disabilities that can cause significant social, communication and behavioral challenges. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), about1-in-68 children have ASD.

“We strive to open up a world for children and their families that they never thought would be possible,” explains Dave Rossman, Communications Director for Surfers For Autism. And Tracy, a single mom in Deerfield Beach, attests to that! Just 5 years old at the time of the launch event, Tracy was cautious to let her autistic son take on an extreme sport in the choppy ocean alongside “strangers” but, after catching a wave, Damian’s face lit up like never before with an accomplished grin. “All you ever want is to see your kid smile,” Tracy emotionally proclaims of Damian finding happiness in surfing.  “Surfing has given him an identity as a surfer and self-confidence. I love seeing where he came from and where he is now with the ability do tricks and handle his board without fear.” Now 15, Damian plans to participate in every Surfers For Autism event this year while also surfing with Special Olympics and other groups.

Surfers For Autism supports research, awareness and advocacy while also creating safe, fun and judgment-free social environments. “Surfers For Autism is a cult but in the best connotation of the word, with bonding of people with a like mission to get these kids surfing and give these families a day that they never thought they would have in their lifetime,” Dave says. “Parents spend the day with families that are facing the same issues so there is a lot of connecting and strength building from that. They talk about struggles and offer each other advice and encouragement. Many of our families become friends and spend time together throughout the year.”

Girl on a paddleboard with surfers for autism

Three volunteer surfers support each rider during a 25-minute session – one to choose waves, another to steer the surfboard and a third at the shoreline to help the rider back into the ocean for another exhilarating ride. The volunteer-run organization hosts 10 annual events which welcome 200 registered surf participants, 350 volunteers and, depending on the market, anywhere from 2,500-12,000 supportive beachgoers. Though not traditional fundraisers, events generate about $10,000 in donations to further the cause. The minimum age for participants is 4 years old, but ranges up to the mid-20s.

Surfers are known to have mellow attitudes and perhaps Surfers For Autism is channeling that mood.  “While Surfers For Autism is just one therapy component for our families, we often hear of the calming effects lasting for days or even weeks after events and behavior improvements in school, plus the building of friendships which may otherwise be a struggle,” Dave shares. Studies have found that surfing decreases negative feelings and increases positive feelings. Parents have noted subsequent progress with communication, body awareness and other improvements. Surfers For Autism engages the whole family unit, so even siblings love these ultimate beach parties filled with entertainment, painting, gaming tents and more. For information, visit or And shop at to benefit the organization.

Wheelchair Athletes Have a Ball


Since 1992, the Orlando Magic Wheels have encouraged people with disabilities to bring their A-game to team sports. “We are a sanctioned team with the National Wheelchair Basketball Association,” says coach Joyce Prakke. The Orlando Magic Wheels currently compete in Division 3 games throughout Florida.

“A lot of us [players] were in competitive sports before we became disabled. When you have that competitive attitude, you can become frustrated if you don’t have that outlet,” explains Prakke. Once the starting center on her high school basketball team, her sports career was sideline when, at 17, osteogenic sarcoma in her pelvis bone led to a pelvectomy. The following year, the same type of cancer claimed three-fourths of her right shoulder. “I did not find out about disabled sports until I was 37 years old and I have not left yet,” says Prakke.“It allows you to enjoy cardio despite a lower limb disability, and offers a culture of people who are not judging you for doing something in a different way.” In fact, the mission of the Orlando Magic Wheels is to educate others about disabilities while helping to sustain and promote physical and emotional health in disabled people.

Orlando Magic Wheels team members

“We are a division that welcomes and trains novice basketball players. If you’ve never played, we can teach you how,” Prakke affirms. Anyone with a lower limb disability who is coordinated enough to push a wheelchair and hold a basketball is a candidate.The current roster ranges from 18 to 60 years old, with an array of disabilities stemming from, for example, amputation, polio, spinal cord injury and traumatic brain injury. “I had to have a brain operation to correct the av malformations [of blood vessels in the brain],” says Connie Sloat, who joined the team after meeting NWBA Hall of Famer and then Orlando Magic Wheels coach Roger Davis at a disability conference 20 years ago. “This is my other family and we all work together to help each other. I see a person’s heart… not their disability.” Like Sloat, many players are long-standing team members. Prakke wore a player jersey for 17 years before assuming coaching duties this year.“It’s been educational because I am learning more of the intricacies of the game from watching and coaching rather than playing. I am going to take a referee course to further understand all of the fouls and game play,” she declares.

 “We are a division that welcomes and trains novice basketball players. If you’ve never played, we can teach you how.” -Joyce Prakke

“The wheelchair is an extension of your own body so, at some point, you should get your own wheelchair made if feasible,” advises Prakke, though she reassures that expensive equipment shouldn’t be a game deterrent. Players can use loaners (thanks to donated chairs from former players), secure wheelchair funding through Challenged Athlete Foundation grants and even find used equipment online at discounted rates.

The Orlando Magic Wheels offers a platform for athletes with disabilities to exercise and practice sportsmanship but also, specifically for newly disabled, presents therapeutic opportunities. “We just signed a memorandum of understanding with the Orlando VA to be a continuous part of their rehab in partnership with the Wounded Warriors,” Prakke shares.

Aside from likeness in name, the Orlando Magic Wheels have no formal affiliation with the NBA’s Orlando Magic team. The organization is funded, in part, by the Harper Family Charitable Foundation but mostly from supportive individual donors. Want to give it a shot? Come out to a practice, held every Tuesday (6-8 pm) at the Silver Star Rec Center in Orlando. The Orlando Magic Wheels averages about 15 games during the regular season (September to April). The top 16 teams in each division qualify for nationals. For more information, visit; or, for those outside of the Orlando area, visit

Granny Nannies Help with House Calls


The older population—persons 65 years or older—numbered 46.2 million in 2014, according to the Administration on Aging (AoA), representing 14.5% of the U.S. population. That equates to about one in every seven Americans; however, the AoA estimates this population percentage will surge to 21.7% by 2040. As aging occurs – and, in some cases, disabilities increase – many more Americans will find themselves in need of support services. For nearly three decades, families have put their trust in Granny NANNIES, a professional caregiver organization (certified by the Agency for Health Care Administration) to aid such needs. And the company is on track to meet the growing demand for home healthcare.

Rob and Kirsten Hodgson relocated from New Hampshire to Florida to care for Esther, Rob’s aging grandmother, after struggling to find her quality home-based senior services. Realizing that many other families faced the same need, the Hodgson’s established GrannyNANNIES of North America in 1990. Today, it caters to diverse client needs and operates over 35 franchise locations in Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Kentucky, Ohio, South Carolina and Texas. “Each person’s circumstances and needs are different,” says Diane Sanders, Operations Manager for Central Florida and Franchise Director. “Our online self-assessment helps us target what would be beneficial for the client. It’s a starting point as needs may evolve as a result of aging, disease progression, the level of family involvement or other circumstances.”

Eighty percent of elderly people have one or more chronic health conditions or illnesses that requires long-term care, proclaims Granny NANNIES, and the company’s certified nursing assistants and home health aides allow for both short-term and long-term assistance to be offered in the comfort of one’s own home. GrannyNANNIES specializes in the following client services:  Alzheimer’s disease, fall prevention, heart disease, hospice care, hospital sitter care, new parent assistance, Parkinson’sdisease, respite care relief, senior home care, social isolation attention, surgery/accident support, special needs care and stroke recovery.

GrannyNannies helping with a house call for an elderly woman

In the aftermath of two severely debilitating strokes, Valerie Greene’s life was turned upside down at the young age of 31 with significant impact to her hearing, speech and mobility. “I needed help with essential tasks like meal preparation and bathing, and Granny NANNIES was there for me. In fact, their organization was really the only group that reached out to young people.” For seven months following her brain attacks, Greene relied on Granny NANNIES to execute an array of household and personal care tasks, but says she also benefited from the social engagement during a depression period. “At the time, I was emotional and hated being by myself. I would cry when they left and feel happy when they returned,” she adds. Now the founder and CEO of Bcenter, a stroke nonprofit serving survivors and caregivers, Greene acknowledges that Granny NANNIES offers a crucial service during acute stroke recovery for survivors of all ages and, of course, other health conditions.

Sanders joined the Granny NANNIES team twenty years ago, and while senior care remains a main service line, she has witnessed a shift in clientele ─ from age to care specifics. For example, quality support is crucial in the lives of any family tending to a child or loved one with special needs. And even new parents are turning to Granny NANNIES for support. “We realized that a lot of younger women who had just given birth, especially those recovering from a C-section, could use a hand too,” Sanders explains. “Sometimes our New Parent Care if gifted by another for a day to a week to aid with incidental things – like family meals, transportation for other kids, laundry or any household errands so mom and baby can have that special bonding time without distractions.”

An inspiration for the company and beyond, Esther lived to the age of 104 and credited her well-being, in part, to Granny NANNIES. The company is committed to making care accessible and, so, in addition to private pay, clients may use the Medicaid waiver program, long-term care insurance, and the valid and Attendance Pension (A&A), a tax-free cash benefit available from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to help veterans and their spouses pay for home healthcare and medical expenses. For additional information, visit

SilverSneakers Offers Free Fitness Programs for Seniors


Physical activity is essential to healthy living and, perhaps, especially so for mature adults. It can prevent and/or help control many health problems (including those associated with aging), and also build and maintain strength, endurance, balance, flexibility and mental well-being. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), persons who are 65 years of age or older and who are generally fit without limiting conditions should achieve 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity (i.e. brisk walking) or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity (i.e. running) every week, plus muscle-strengthening activities that work all major muscle groups on 2+ days per week. Starting or even sustaining a fitness regime can be intimidating, but a program called SilverSneakers is making exercise more inviting and accessible for seniors.

“SilverSneakers has been the best thing that’s happened to me. Exercise just makes you feel good mentally and physically,” proclaims Leonard O., an 89-year-old who says he has a goal to bench-press 100 pounds when he’s 90! Empowering aging adults to meet their wellness objectives has been the mission of the company since its inception. SilverSneakers was established in 1992 by Mary Swanson and her company, HealthCare Dimensions. She was inspired by her father who survived a heart attack at age 51 and pledged to improve his health through regular physical activity. Mary’s commitment to support his effort expanded into a nationwide endeavor to formalize exercise programs for older adults.

Now operated by the parent company Tivity Health, more than 15.6 million people are eligible for SilverSneakers at no cost through more than 60 health plans, including the nation’s leading Medicare Advantage health plans, Medicare Supplement carriers and group retiree plans. While one’s health is priceless, SilverSneakers prides itself on eliminating gym fees, especially since typical fitness memberships average $30-75 per month. Aside from this out-of-pocket savings, a new study published in Health Behavior and Policy Review “found SilverSneakers group exercise participants saved $2,144 in healthcare costs over a one-year period compared to nonparticipants.”

“You don’t start running a marathon tomorrow. You have to take that first step. And it’s the same thing with SilverSneakers. You need to join and find out what is being offered and take advantage of it,” explains 79-year-old Mark B., who said, “I quit smoking in 1989 at the age of 50, started walking, built up to two miles and then kept going and made a marathon an ultimate goal. And, after the first one, I just kept running more.” He’s since completed 296 marathons and, of course, participates in SilverSneakers sessions!

Group of people enjoying a free Silversneakers fitness class for seniors

Despite his age, some would classify Mark as an elite athlete. However, SilverSneakers caters to all fitness levels by offering three categories:

·       SilverSneakers Classic: Classes such as CardioFit, Circuit, Stability, Splash, Yoga, etc.

·       SilverSneakers BOOM: Fast-paced, higher-intensity group exercise series intended for BabyBoomers and active older adults.

·       SilverSneakers FLEX: More than 50 types of unique classes taught at community-based locations, like churches, recreation centers and adult living communities.

According to SilverSneakers, “people who get fit with their buddies are more likely to stick with their exercise routine than those who go it alone,” and the company found that “49% of active members said they were motivated to continue exercising because they had a friend in the program.” For some members, the intention to improve heart-health also gets the heart pumping in unexpected ways thanks to socialization. As reported in a 2016 article, then 87-year-old Nelson Walter met Mary Swenk in a SilverSneakers class and, just two months later, the pair announced their engagement! Donato Tramuto, CEO of Tivity Health, attests that relationships are among the many benefits, telling AmeriDisability Services, “From physical transformations and overcoming health challenges, to reaching new fitness goals and meeting friends, SilverSneakers helps members improve their health and well-being to live life well.”

SilverSneakers is available at more than 14,000 participating gyms and fitness centers, including 975 in Florida alone. That means that members can access weights, treadmills, pools and other amenities most anywhere, even when traveling. Plus, members can access additional health resources through the SilverSneakers website (, blog and newsletter.

Planning Ahead for Lifelong Care


Navigating support systems for individuals with disabilities can be overwhelming, especially since programs vary per state. A recent PBS article titled “What Happens to the developmentally disabled as parents age, die?” asked a tough question. The answer: Aging or ill parents and/or caregivers should plan ahead for the needs of adult children with disabilities, says Deborah Linton, Chief Executive Officer for the The Arc of Florida, a nonprofit that promotes and protects the human rights of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and actively supports their full inclusion and participation in the community throughout their lifetimes. “The time to make a transition in life is not during a crisis,” she explains, “so I encourage individuals to start planning sooner as opposed to later.”

An individual born with a developmental disability has the right to institutional care if they want it. “Most people in Florida (and around the nation) today choose not to accept institutional care to stay in the community,” says Melanie Mowry Etters, Communications Director at the Agency for Persons with Disabilities (APD), of the common decision to opt for a Medicaid waiver. To be eligible for APD services, one must be a Florida resident and have one of the following seven developmental disabilities: autism, cerebral palsy, intellectual disabilities, Down syndrome, Prader-Willi syndrome, Phelan-McDermid syndrome or spina bifida, or children age 3-5 who are at a high risk of a developmental disability. “In Florida, we have a very expansion waiver. We offer 27 different types of services. Not all states have such a rich waiver; others are limited to 8 or 10 services,” proclaims Mowry Etters, who says that 33,000 people currently have waivers, which is typically a lifelong commitment on behalf of the state. An individual assessment, determined by a questionnaire for situational information (QSI) score, determines one’s allotment through iBudget Florida, a new and improved funding system that gives APD customers more control and flexibility to choose services that are important to them.

Adult male with down syndrome smiling outdoors

“It’s been wonderful for families because, many years ago, the only choice you had for care was to be placed away from home in an institution. And the waiving of those standards allowed Medicaid dollars to flow into the community for services in their own homes,” says Linton; however, she acknowledges that Medicaid remains bias toward institutional care, citing: “because the payment for institutional care is so much higher than what it is in the community.”

Demand for services in Florida has increased, in part because the state’s population continues to rise, including retired and/or aging residents who have adult children with disabilities. As a result, unfortunately, Florida has a lengthy list of 20,000 people waiting for services. “Florida puts up 40% towards every Medicaid dollar so it’s a 40% to 60% match from the Federal government. That 40% is state general revenue dollars and, so, that’s the fight usually downtown in the legislature for more money to go into the budget. There is obviously lots of conflicting interests’ downtown because Florida has to put up your taxpayer money,” Linton explains. Mowry Etters declares that about half of the people on the waiting list receive services elsewhere, such as youth under the age of 21 who qualify for services under the Medicaid State Plan and are waiting for future services; but a gap does remain. APD also offers a waiver option for those in a crisis situation (homeless, danger to self or others or caregiver unable to give care), which has helped about 6,000 people with “one-time” services.

The waiver is designed to serve the individual with the disability such as with transportation, job coaching, adult day programs and more, but may naturally help families. “The waiver could fund a respite caregiver should the primary caregiver take a vacation, ”suggests Mowry Etters. Additional services may be available through the Agency for Healthcare Administration, Department for Elderly Affairs, Department of Children and Families, Department of Health, and Department of Education. Linton also suggests that families on the waiting list utilize Florida Vocational Rehabilitation (VR), a federal-state program that helps people who have physical or mental disabilities get or keep a job; Center for Autism and Related Disorders (CARD), a program using applied behavior analysis (ABA) in the treatment of autism; and community-based adult programs facilitated by local school boards, universities or organizations. Among those in Central Florida, Linton favors Morgan’s Place, a “multi-sensory wonderful” for children (Melbourne); Camp Boggy Creek, a medically-sound recreational environment for children with illnesses (Eustis); and the Florida Center for Students with Unique Abilities, an effort providing financial support (and more) so students with intellectual disabilities have opportunities for on-campus college experiences and employment opportunities through degree, certificate or non-degree programs.