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Bone Builders volunteer keeps elders moving freely

ORWELL — Marlene Latourelle had already spent the past six years helping Shoreham-area seniors stay fit and battle osteoporosis as the leader of a twice-per-week Bone Builders class when she decided she wanted to expand her outreach.
Now the Orwell resident is preparing to teach a tai chi class — an additional offering she believes will help seniors of all physical abilities remain active and social.
“I really enjoy it,” she said of Bone Builders and tai chi. “I almost don’t look at it as a volunteer thing.”
Latourelle, 64, launched her volunteer activities through the Retired Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP) of Addison County. She enjoyed the exercise and wanted to share its benefits with others in the Orwell/Shoreham area.
“It is beneficial mentally, physically and spiritually,” she said.
It all began in 2006, when she began to take Bone Builders classes. The RSVP Bone Builders Program relies upon weight training and balance exercises to protect against fractures caused by osteoporosis by increasing muscular strength, balance and bone density.
“I decided I wanted to lead my own class,” she said.
So she took some training through RSVP, got her certification as a leader, and began holding classes in the Shoreham firehouse in 2007. A core group of around a dozen “students” show up for her free Bone Builders classes, which is still held from 9 to 10 a.m. on Mondays and Wednesdays. A different instructor leads Bone Builders at that same location from 8 to 9 a.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Participants have bonded beyond the exercises, Latourelle explained. They have formed friendships, discussed day-to-day travails and had potluck meals together.
She hopes a similar camaraderie forms among members of a tai chi group she is looking to form later this spring. She was inspired by a tai chi class she recently took at Middlebury Fitness. It will be a free, beginners’ class for seniors and will be partially funded through the Arthritis Foundation. It will include basic movements specifically tailored to people who might be frail and/or have disabilities, such as arthritis or balance problems. She explained many of the movements can be performed while seated.
“You don’t have to bend as low, and you are working every muscle in the body,” Latourelle said.
She is working with the Champlain Valley Agency on Aging to find a suitable space in which to offer the class. She is not yet sure whether it will be held during the day or in the evening. (Look for the time and place in the Independent once they are nailed down.)
“It will probably go for 10 weeks, twice a week,” Latourelle said. She hopes to lead two or three sessions per year.
If that class works out well, she plans to graduate to teaching level two tai chi.
Mary West, director of health promotion at CVAA, said volunteers are the “star and heart” of the organization’s tai chi program.
“Without our volunteers, there would be no classes,” West said.
In addition to Latourelle, West expressed her thanks to volunteers Ruth Barenbaum, Debbie Connors, Jim Emerson, Lee Francis, Dotty McCarthy, Susan Mock, Doreen Peterson and Helen Turner. She also acknowledged the businesses and organizations that provided free space in which to hold free tai chi classes this year, including Middlebury Fitness, the Bristol Parks and Recreation Department, Valley Bible Church, Northlands Job Corps, Brandon Senior Center, Starksboro Library, New Haven Town Hall and Lincoln Library.
Latourelle fits volunteering into a busy lifestyle. In addition to other activities, she provides administrative and accounting support for her husband, Norton Latourelle, an accomplished sculptor.
“I like to be active,” she said.
Reporter John Flowers is at johnf@addisonindepen

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