There is no age limit on making healthy choices for the mind and body. Few understand this better than the staff of Elder Services of the Merrimack Valley and North Shore (ESMV-NS).
For 47 years, ESMV-NS has been working to ensure the health, safety and independence of local seniors and persons with disabilities through a range of care programs. With over 28 communities in its service region, the nonprofit has also become a prominent regional force for wellness, offering activities that can benefit seniors and their families.
Nutrition services have been a major focal point for ESMV-NS in this area, including Meals on Wheels and other programs. Leigh Hartwell, a registered dietician for the organization, is responsible for providing many of the nutritional programs, meal services and personal diet consultations.
“There’s an initial misconception among some [clients] that people can’t change,” Hartwell says. “The mindset of ‘I’ve never tried this before, so why would I do it now?’ — I try to show through my work that you can remain open to new ideas at any stage in life.”
One way Hartwell accomplishes this is through lectures at senior centers and councils on aging, where her topics include immunity, inflammation, hydration and food security. Each senior center or council on aging in the service region hosts at least two lectures per year, with additional programs, such as Zoom consultations and home nutrition visits, available to participating clients.
Health and Community Program Coordinator Carolyn Savio of the Billerica Council on Aging, explains how such programming has generated results for their clients and staff alike:
“Collaborating with [ESMV-NS] has given us the opportunity to expand resources available to our patrons, so they are more informed and can make better choices about their health and wellness,” Savio says.
Such collaborations, while critical, aren’t always easy to manage — especially when the luxury of face-to-face lectures and visits disappears.
During the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, ESMV-NS faced the challenge of determining how best to move forward with its nutrition programs, knowing that many clients had limited computer and internet access.
“We had to pivot our efforts toward finding different ways to reach consumers and produce meaningful content for people,” Hartwell says.
A solution came in the form of partnerships with local community access television networks, including Billerica Access Television (BATV) and North Andover Community Access and Media (CAM). They organized a nutrition show modeled on “Jeopardy,” informal Zoom talks, and a food and exercise series called “Forever Fit.”
The shift toward local TV programming, while providing Elder Services with a new lens through which more clients could be reached during COVID, came about largely by chance.
Given the reaction to these and other virtual projects, and the broader audience reach, ESMV-NS says it will explore similar programming going forward.
In the meantime, and with more services (both in person and virtual) being offered all the time, Hartwell advises interested individuals to keep an eye on the latest developments.
“We have a running events calendar that lists all the programs that seniors and their loved ones can check out,” she says. “Connect with your local senior center, or call [our information and referral department] to find out what we have coming up.”
To learn more about ESMV-NS and the services it offers, visit ESMV.org or call (800) 892-0890.