Last year at this time in January, a Bone Builders exercise group was meeting in the Ecumen Lakeshore Chapel every Tuesday and Thursday. Led by Sue Malley, a volunteer living in the Duluth community, the group was thriving and continually growing.

Bone Builders is an exercise program that helps to prevent and reverse the progression of osteoporosis. Its benefits are multiple- it improves bone density and strengthens muscles, improves balance and provides an opportunity for socialization. There are several Bone Builders classes that normally meet throughout Duluth, St. Louis, Lake and Cook Counties.

Many Lakeshore residents appreciated the health benefits of regular exercise and enjoyed the social aspect of meeting together. Leader Sue Malley attracted many to join the class as she was always welcoming and encouraging and made exercising fun! When the Coronavirus pandemic hit Sue Malley was no longer able to visit Lakeshore and the Bone Builders group, like all group gatherings across the country, ceased.

Jim Martin and Jim Franck had been participants in the Bone Builders group who enjoyed and missed the twice weekly gatherings. They came up with a very creative way to “pivot” and continue the classes.  “The Jims” as they are sometimes called decided they would lead the Bone Builders classes from the chapel and stream them on Lakeshore’s closed- circuit TV channel. That way, whoever wished to participate could watch classes on their TV and exercise in the comfort of their own living room. This idea caught on and provided much-needed continuity for those that had been participating in the Bone Builders classes and also made it possible for others to participate.

Verena Lund has been a resident at Lakeshore for 8 years and Bone Builders classes have been a part of her routine throughout those years. Verena says she likes Bone Builders because it works your whole body, is free and FUN! A strong advocate for Bone Builders, Verena says it can be modified to everyone’s fitness levels and abilities and she is so grateful that Jim Martin and Jim Franck have made it possible for her and other residents to continue an exercise routine in their daily lives, despite the pandemic.

Realizing that their idea of using the CCTV could be applied in other ways, Jim Martin decided to lead Bingo this way. He calls Bingo from the chapel and residents are able to watch in their apartments. When they get a Bingo, they call Jim who has a Lakeshore phone (installed for him in the chapel) and he verifies that they do indeed have Bingo (it’s always a game of cover all). If they are a winner, their prize is collected at the front desk. Over 200 games have been played.

At a time of great isolation, lack of activity and loneliness in all our lives, the pandemic and its safety measures (social distancing, wearing masks, bans on group gatherings) have been especially hard on seniors. Jim Martin and Jim Franck have creatively found a way to help alleviate these conditions through virtual Bone Builders and Bingo!

Jim Martin, Jim Franck and Sue Malley are all Lakeshore volunteers who are registered with Arrowhead RSVP, an AmeriCorps Seniors program. If you would like to learn more about Bone Builders classes or becoming an RSVP volunteer at one of our many partnership sites, call Kirsten at 218-409-5991.