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Building Community with Walking Clubs

by Wendy Fachon

Walking is an easy physical activity that allows people to engage in uninterrupted exercise and uninterrupted conversation at the same time. Walking clubs can help retired seniors, working professionals and aspiring youth build community within their own age group. Inter-generational walking clubs, however, have tremendous potential to positively transform an entire local community. After considering the physical, social and emotional needs that arise in each phase of life, and considering the larger picture, one can imagine how the needs of a particular age group might help satisfy the needs of the other groups.

Retirees, widows and widowers often become isolated, sedentary and depressed, which can cause health challenges. When seniors can identify a new purpose for their lives that fits with their interests, this has a positive impact on their mental health and consequently upon their physical and spiritual health. Walking clubs organized within a senior community can provide the elderly with the motivation to exercise, socialize, make new friends, share past experiences and explore options for new hobbies or interests. Retirees are fortunate to find themselves with a flexible daytime schedule—morning, noon, and afternoon—where they can get out and enjoy life with others.

Working professionals, that spend a lot of time sitting in an office or in a car, tend to develop a sedentary lifestyle. A 15- to 30-minute walk with colleagues after lunch will help all co-workers to reduce weight, manage blood sugar levels and re-energize for afternoon tasks.

Beyond the sedentary nature of certain jobs, many professionals may be stressed with a heavy load of multiple responsibilities. Effective management of a walking program, one that integrates interdepartmental communication, can help workers identify ways to ease loads and collaborate to resolve many other organizational challenges.

Aspiring youth benefit from school-community walking clubs that are facilitated by adult leaders trained in youth development and learning enrichment. Health is an important aspect of youth development. While it is generally recommended that students get 60 minutes of physical activity per day, many students get less than 15 minutes due to academic schedules.

After-school clubs formed to serve elementary schools provide a perfect opportunity for teenagers, particularly those not committed to a team sport, to get involved in a fun and productive activity, where they can gain leadership experience and engage in a public service that helps build a stronger portfolio/resume. Adult leaders mentor the teens in leading activities with small teams of younger students and help all the students develop soft skills that are vital to success in life.

Inter-generational walking clubs are about bringing high school students together with both retired seniors and working professionals to share stories and wisdom that may help youth explore a variety of career options. A college and a chamber of commerce might partner to create a walking club that connects college students with working professionals, that are often seeking interns or volunteers to mentor in exchange for assistance with day-to-day operations or special projects. A senior living community might partner with a middle school to create a walking club that gives retirees an opportunity to help students develop listening and conversation skills while exploring interesting topics.

The Empowerment Factory is a community learning space in Pawtucket that is seeking to create greater well-being and build community by organizing walking programs for seniors, professionals and students. On Saturday, January 13 from 1:30 – 2:30 p.m. following the Wintertime Farmers Market at Hope Artist Village, The Empowerment Factory will be hosting an indoor community walk to bring people together to launch this new initiative. For more details on Empowerment Factory walking program visit TheEmpowermentFactory.org.