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Goffstown group's aim is to help seniors stay social — and healthy

By GRETCHEN M. GROSKY
New Hampshire Union Leader

December 14. 2017 12:54AM
Christmas decorations were on the agenda when the Senior Health Incentive Network Endeavor (SHINE) met in Goffstown on Wednesday. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)



GOFFSTOWN -- Twelve giggling women sit around a square table, working on Christmas wreaths and making snow globes for the holidays. They start to tease Alice Slattum, who says she is 94. The rest of the group insists she is 95. They all share a hearty laugh.

These women, ranging in age from 70 to their 90s, come together once a week for fellowship, food and a bit of exercise as part of a program called SHINE, otherwise known as Senior Health Incentive Network Endeavors. It aims to keep older people healthy by bringing them together for socialization and wellness.

“Many of us have lost our husbands and many of us are alone,” said Betty McKinnon, 88. “It’s very easy to stay at home and drop out. This is easy and keeps us going and it keeps the conversation going.”

The group started almost 12 years ago, the brainchild of the Rev. Bill Exner, who was pastor at St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church where the SHINE group meets. Exner asked Barbara Carbonneau, now 82, who was a recent widow at the time, to help lead the group.

“This gave me something to focus on and something to do,” she said. “The more you read, the more you realize how important it is for seniors not to isolate themselves.”

Research has shown that social isolation and loneliness can have a profound impact on a senior’s health. One study has found that being socially isolated can have the same result as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, while others point to an increased mortality rate and more cognitive issues.

Slattum said SHINE is “good for me.”

“Otherwise, I’d stay home and read,” she said. “But I make myself get out every day and walk.”

Barbara Mace has lived all of her 90 years in Goffstown. St. Matthew’s has always been a big part of her family’s lives — it’s where they had all their baptisms and weddings. She’s been attending SHINE since it started.

“It gets us old ladies out of the house,” she said with a laugh. “It’s very creative. It gives you the opportunity to think and to organize your thoughts. When you get older, it’s not as easy to organize your thoughts.”

The program is supported by St. Matthew’s parish nurse Sue Jepsen. It gives Jepsen an opportunity to keep an eye on these women, most of whom live alone, answer their health questions, and help them find ways to keep healthy.

“This is invaluable,” Jepsen said. “For some people that come here, it might be the only socialization they get all week.”

The weekly meetings are usually centered around health. Jepsen speaks sometimes, while other times physical therapists or nutritionists come in to talk about living well.

They also like to have fun.

On this day, the group was making holiday crafts with Alyssa Van Guilder, owner of Apotheca Flower and Tea Shoppe of Goffstown. They spent an hour gluing gilded decorations onto wreaths and taking miniature figurines and trees and putting them into jars.

“This is to bring back the childhood imagination,” Van Guilder tells the group, as she helps one woman place small animal figurines into her jar. “You can look in your snow globe and all your problems disappear.”

Van Guilder has been doing this project with the group for the last seven years. “There is so much we can learn from these women,” said Van Guilder. “I just enjoy coming here and it’s a way to give back.”

The group is not just a women’s group. Men are welcome too.

“We used to have a token man,” laughed Mace. “He used to sit behind me in history class and was a great debater. He would come here and we’d talk all about it.”

Silver Linings is a continuing Union Leader/Sunday News report focusing on the issues of New Hampshire’s aging population and seeking out solutions. Union Leader reporter Gretchen Grosky would like to hear from readers about issues related to aging. She can be reached at ggrosky@unionleader.com or 206-7739. See more at www.unionleader.com/aging. This series is funded through a grant from the Endowment for Health.


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