New pilot project boosts senior wellness in St. Catharines

Danielle Rankie, who graduated from Niagara College’s Exercise Science for Health and Performance in 2018, assists Lora Warkentin with her workout at Tabor Manor. Niagara College photo

Niagara College press release – A community of local seniors are getting fitter, stronger and a boost of confidence, with a little help from Niagara College.

A new pilot project is bringing fitness expertise from the College to Radiant Care’s Tabor Manor in St. Catharines. Recent graduates from the College, as well as students on co-op placements, are on-site at Tabor Manor’s new fitness and wellness centre each weekday to provide instruction, coaching and encouragement to seniors using the facility.

Radiant Care Tabor Manor CEO Tim Siemens noted that the new 2,000-square-foot fitness and wellness centre in St. Catharines is a success story for the not-for-profit residence for seniors, driven by strategic priorities to promote wellness and prevent falls, as well as the wishes of its tenant association. The initiative was supported by its foundation, which raised more than $80,000 to retrofit the space – formerly a dining hall – and purchase equipment. When the new facility opened its doors however, they discovered there was a barrier preventing some seniors from making the most of the centre: they did not know how to use the equipment.

Enter NC graduates and students who are performing individual fitness assessments, instructing seniors on how to use the equipment, run classes, and contribute to the positive social fabric of the Centre.

“Our seniors have had hip replacements, knee surgeries and other health issues that have to be considered before beginning a fitness program and we don’t have the expertise – but Niagara College does,” said Siemens. “The partnership with NC is already having a tremendous impact on our seniors. We’re seeing them build strength, they’re getting more fit, there have been fewer falls, and they have more self -confidence and a greater sense of overall well-being.

Carolyn Triemstra, dean of NC’s Community and Health Studies division, noted that Radiant Care has been a wonderful educational partner through several educational projects, student placements and hiring a number of NC graduates. “As we continue to grow this partnership, supporting the on-site fitness centre for current tenants, staff and local community members was the next logical step, as we have faculty and graduate expertise in the area of fitness assessment and programming,” said Triemstra. “Our graduates are gaining valuable work experience, as are the students currently completing placements alongside NC graduates.”

Danielle Rankie, who graduated from Exercise Science for Health and Performance in 2018, finds it rewarding to know she is applying her skills to have a positive impact on community seniors.

“Many seniors have not stepped foot in a gym before because their generation was more active and didn’t need to, so it can be daunting for them, but now they’re really excited to be here and learn new things,” she said. “It’s very rewarding for me to impart my knowledge, skills and experience here, and I believe that adjusting to work with older clients has also made me a better CEP [certified exercise physiologist].”

Rob Chrzaszcz who graduated from NC’s Fitness and Health Promotion program in 2012 and Exercise Science for Health and Performance 2017, works in a local physiotherapy clinic as well as a personal trainer in addition to his 20 hours a week at Tabor Manor where he works with seniors individually and runs full body stretch workout classes. He values the opportunity to work with seniors, focusing on helping them build their balance, and finds their progress rewarding.

“Balance is a huge issue for the elderly but most of them have never worked on it. There was not a single person who could balance on one leg for five seconds when I did the initial assessments, but now people are trying it and are more comfortable with it,” he said. “When I first got here, many of them didn’t know how to use the equipment and I didn’t think they could do their exercises the way they now can, but I come in and encourage them to push themselves harder.”

For Lora Warkentin, who was one of the first members of the fitness and wellness centre, working with the NC graduates has made all the difference. She uses most of the machines now, follows her individualized fitness program, and enjoys attending the 9 a.m. group classes.

“It’s amazing. I’m using muscles that I never used before, and it has helped. I feel better and I see other people are looking better, walking better and standing straighter too,” she said. “It’s not just about the exercise; it’s about the socialization with the trainers and with each other, and we encourage each other along the way.”

Funded in part by the Government of Ontario, the pilot project between Tabor Manor and Niagara College kicked off at the beginning of January and runs until the end of March.

The  also supported various new experiential learning initiatives at the College last fall including a new Performance Clinic, a Therapeutic Recreation Activity Centre, weekly Wellness Walks and more.

Tabor Manor’s fitness and wellness centre is not only open to residents of Tabor Manor but memberships are available to the Pleasant Manor community, as well as employees, and neighbourhood seniors. Plans are in the works for a similar facility in the future at Radiant Care’s Pleasant Manor in Niagara-on-the-Lake.

Radiant Care is a faith-based, charitable not-for-profit organization offering a full continuum of seniors housing. Visit