Healthy aging: Vicksburg’s YMCA gaining national attention

Published 10:22 pm Saturday, January 27, 2024

Two years ago Mindy Giambrone began a journey to improve the lives of senior citizens in the Vicksburg area. Twenty-four months and one partnership with the YMCA later and her program has been chosen as one of only ten in the United States to help spread the idea to as many Y’s as possible.

Giambrone said the original motivation for the program came during a dinner with her husband in downtown Vicksburg.

“This big bus pulls up, and all these people start piling off,” she said. “I get to talking with them and they are with the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute out of Illinois and they were on a tour.”

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Giambrone said the tourists began telling her how the program changed their lives after retirement and gave her the idea of
implementing something similar in Warren County.

“It gave them a whole different perspective on what retirement looks like,” she said. “At that time I had been teaching for about
13 years, a P.E. teacher at Vicksburg Catholic, the elementary school. Around that time, Phillip Doiron became the executive
director of the Y, and I’ve known Phillip a long, long time. And when he came I started dropping a bug in his ear that we should do a senior program for adults at our YMCA. I pestered the fool out of him for maybe two years; maybe three.”

Giambrone said she eventually reached out to the president at Osher, who connected her with programs around the country focused on healthy aging.

“I just started calling all of these people,” she said. “They all had very similar principles to their program.”

Giambrone said some advice from one of the pro- grams she reached out to stuck: That people reaching retirement age are not dissimilar from people entering college.

“They are leaving work. They are leaving this comfort zone they have been in. And they need to go new places and meet new people and experience life in a different way.”

With that in mind, Giambrone said she returned to Doiron and told him she planned to retire from teaching and wanted to pursue the project full-time. The only problem, she said, was finding the money needed to get her idea off the ground.

“So, I learned how to write grants,” she said. “And the first year I was up here, the entire pro- gram, including myself, was funded by grants.”

Giambrone is now full- time at the YMCA as the active Y adult director and the program is only getting bigger.

“We do a lot of things each month,” she said. “My program is anything to do with the 50-and-older age group. We do educational classes. We have art classes three or four times a month. We have a nutritionist with Nutrition Matters here in town once a month. We have pickleball classes. I have a speaker once a month. Sometimes it’s really educational; sometimes it’s really fun. And we go on a field trip once a month.”

Giambrone said those in her program also go out to eat locally and have monthly potlucks, in addition to the many classes offered at the YMCA.

And with a large grant recently acquired for her program, she is hoping what is offered will only increase and that the pro-
gram can be duplicated in other YMCAs across the country.

“We’re just trying to hit all of the bases,” she said. “Of course, the physical side. But, the mental stimulation, and the social side of it is so important. The Healthy Aging Learning Cohort chose ten YMCAs in the United States. So I get on a Zoom call with these other nine YMCAs and with an administrator with the Y USA and we are building the principles for a national healthy aging program. So any Y can say they want to start a program, and here’s how we do it.”

And while Giambrone said many of her program’s offerings do not require membership in the YMCA for seniors to be able to
take part, she said joining is certainly encouraged.

For more information, calls can be directed to the Junius Ward Johnson YMCA at 601-638-1071.