Older Americans Month: Volunteer for 60+ Activity Center in Oregon Advocates for Seniors

By Jennifer Fulcher-Nguyen | Posted on May 15, 2020

Bryn 410

Park and recreation facilities run on the hard work and commitment of not only staff but also volunteers. Bryn McCornack’s involvement at the Newport Parks and Recreation Department’s 60+ Activity Center in Oregon has evolved from class participant to volunteer to advocate.

McCornack first learned about the center when she moved to Newport, Oregon, five years ago and decided to sign up for a fitness class. She liked it so much that when an opportunity to become a substitute teacher for a class came up, she jumped at the chance. “I believe that we are uniquely positioned to counter isolation and improve the physical health of our older population through programs designed to improve strength and balance,” she says. Now, not only does she teach numerous classes, but she is also working to secure funding for the center to get a wheelchair accessible van.

McCornack’s involvement at the center provided her with connections to other older adults in the community and other volunteer activities. “This has led to my own efforts to focus on how the medical community and community-based organizations can work together to dramatically improve health outcomes,” she says. She is a member of the Newport Park System Master Plan Advisory Committee, the 60+ Activity Center Advisory Committee and the Friends of the Newport Senior Activity Center. She even gave a presentation at the 2019 NRPA Annual Conference alongside a representative from Samaritan Health Services on how partnerships between parks and recreation and medical clinics can benefit the health of older adults. “The hospitals do such a great job of taking care of people when they are ill, what we want to do is to keep them from going into the hospital in the first place. And once they leave the hospital, we want to provide aftercare,” she says.

Through the Friends of the Newport Senior Activity Center group, McCornack is writing a grant proposal to help the center acquire a new, accessible van. This would open up the center’s evidence-based exercise classes, congregate meals-on-wheels and social interaction opportunities to additional older adults in the community, she says.

McCornack spends several hours a day during the week either leading classes, preparing for classes or working on other volunteer-related activities. She loves making an impact for those around her and enjoys the ability to try many different things, an opportunity she attributes to the center’s supervisor, Peggy O'Callaghan. “Peggy is so great at putting needs and people together, people just love working with her,” she says.

Support from O’Callaghan has allowed McCornack, who has a background in dance, to expand the types of dance classes the center offers — from hip hop and Broadway to hula and belly dancing — as well as start new programs like death cafes where seniors can gather to talk through their experiences, thoughts and feelings about death. McCornack also has helped host a “mad hatter”-themed tea party and added a choreography component to a Halloween party. She has received training to conduct various evidence-based fitness classes, such as Walk With Ease, and is looking forward to teaching Fit & Strong!.

The center closed temporarily to protect public health during the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, but McCornack joined other staff and volunteers in creating resources for seniors to stay active at home. She made a video guiding viewers through gentle stretching and plans to make an instructional dance video inspired by the movie Saturday Night Fever. The challenge is to keep seniors engaged and involved while the center is closed because this can contribute to loneliness, depression and loss of physical abilities, she says. “Every day we look for ways to keep older adults engaged during this health crisis and recognize the necessity of developing strategies for rebuilding the firm foundation…that ‘everyone is visible,’” McCornack says. But she has seen people reconnecting with each other during this time of physical distancing, herself included.  

“I’ve developed some really strong friendships,” McCornack says. Every day, she talks to one of her students who has become a close friend, just to check-in and share ideas for keeping active. Another woman who took her class has become such a close friend that they are planning to go on a vacation together later this year. And she has regular calls with another friend she’s met through the center; they discuss future plans for center programming.

“It’s a great community, it truly is,” McCornack says. She recommends becoming a volunteer, especially at senior facilities. She also looks forward to returning to the center to see friends and teach classes when it reopens.

Like many of you, McCornack is making her mark by continuing to support adults in her community each day. May is Older Americans Month —  join the conversation and share your story on social media by using the hashtags #HealthyAginginParks, #MakeYourMark and #OAM2020. And, be sure to check out NRPA’s Healthy Aging in Parks resources for more information.

Previous Older American Month blogs:

Jennifer Fulcher-Nguyen is NRPA's Communications Manager.