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Residents, staff at State College retirement community put focus on ‘mind-body approach’

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Employees and residents at Juniper Village in State College are not required to participate in the community’s new mindfulness program. It’s what passes for an elective in a retirement community — open to everyone, free to take or leave depending on just how many core requirements you’ve already loaded up on.

But Anne Campbell, senior executive director of Juniper Village at Brookline, said that the people who choose to participate in REfresh love it. For the employees, it’s an opportunity to de-stress and refocus their energy on the residents, who, by the way, are also reaping the benefits of inhaling and exhaling at well-paced intervals.

“There are some breathing exercises that are going into it, there are some gentle stretches that are going into it. But it’s really a time where they kind of slow down in their day and set an intention for the day and then really are able to be present for the work that they do,” Campbell said.

In 2016, a Penn State study focused on the impact that mindfulness could have on stressful work environments selected Juniper Village as one of the participants. Village higher-ups liked the central premise so much that they decided to keep it alive with REfresh.

A pilot program launched inside the assisted and independent living facilities and was eventually picked up by the Village’s memory and skilled nursing communities. Now you’ll be able to find some variation of REfresh underneath every Juniper roof with slight variations in place to accommodate the different facets of work that are being performed.

“The classes and the design looks a little bit different for each type of care and because of really the work that’s happening with those buildings is different too and their kind of flow was different. That really happened a lot this year,” Campbell said.

REfresh coordinators Tsultrim Datso and Sue Lembeck-Edens called the program “a mind-body approach to well-being and stress reduction” — in fact they see it more as a culture shift than a program.

Around Juniper, the word “refresh” has become shorthand for a desire to de-stress and renew. While resident and employee sessions are often held separately, they do come together when they can.

“This joint REfresh class creates a very special opportunity for the entire community to come together, not as caregivers and those who receive care, but a time to be together just as people,” Datso and Lembeck-Edens said.

Building stronger relationships between the Juniper staff and residents has been one of the fringe benefits of the program. Campbell felt that the joint classes fostered another kind of community.

“We always kind of felt like we were a great community but it really got our residents and our associates to be kind of on the same level for at least that portion of the day and I think kind of broke down some walls. Our walls were pretty thin but they were there,” Campbell said.