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In The Mix Diversity Seniors

Building Community Elders’ Strength

StrongBodies program aimed to improve health of older adults

Yia Lor |

Community care is a concept that is widely practiced in the HMoob culture. It is the idea that we must lift each other up because we are only as strong as whoever is most vulnerable in our society.
Right before the pandemic, I had started in a new position with UW-Madison Division of Extension Eau Claire County and was working through a community needs assessment to see what I could do in my role with moving my community forward. One of the organizations I sat down with was the Hmong Mutual Assistance Association (HMAA), and we discussed the challenges that HMoob (also referred to in English as Hmong) families were currently facing.

The HMAA shared they had been searching for an exercise program for HMoob elders but ran into challenges, such as lack of funding and not finding a facilitator who could speak HMoob. They run a program called Kajsiab Project, which aims to reduce social isolation, increase knowledge of physical and mental health, and promote healing among HMoob elders. Elders often are a part of multigenerational households and play key roles in the lives of youth, and when we support their overall well-being, we support the entire family system. On the day I visited, the HMAA happened to be hosting a group of elders, and there were about 30 of them gathered together in lively conversations as they waited for their presentation to begin. Though I didn’t know any of them, I could already hear my mother saying, “These elders are your grandparents who share this community with you, and you will care for them, too.”

Though I didn’t know any of them, I could already hear my mother saying, “These elders are your grandparents who share this community with you, and you will care for them, too.”

YIA LOR

 

When my Extension colleagues across the state invited me to a conversation about starting a HMoob virtual offering of a strength training program called StrongBodies, this felt like the perfect opportunity to bridge a gap in services both locally and across the state. StrongBodies is an evidence-based program proven to offer physical and mental health benefits. It has more than 900 leaders and 17,000 participants across the state, and though the pandemic may have stopped some in-person programming, Extension has found ways to offer this virtually still.

The past several months, I have been working with an incredibly dedicated team to create the HMoob version of StrongBodies. My Extension colleagues from Marathon County serve one of the largest HMoob populations in the state, and they have shared their translated materials and resources to help us launch StrongBodies here. The FoodWIse Nutrition team in Eau Claire and Chippewa counties lead a statewide series to over a hundred participants, and they have provided great mentorship along with inspiration. Despite some of the hurdles with starting a new program during a pandemic, we look forward to piloting the HMoob version of StrongBodies in Eau Claire and Marathon counties with the hope of offering it across our state.

There is a HMoob proverb that says many hands make the work feel light, and many ideas show us the way. When we work together, especially in times like these, we lift our whole community. We draw on our ability to survive, connect, and show up for one another, and it is in the act of showing up that creates space for community healing.

More information on StrongBodies can be found at healthyliving.extension.wisc.edu/programs/strongbodies.

Yia Lor is a storyteller and writer from Eau Claire. She shares her time with her family, her yoga mat, and 30+ houseplants.