It was high noon in mid-August at the community room of Susquehanna View Apartments in Camp Hill and, despite the day’s heat, exercise coach Jesse Swoyer was ready to go.
“Happy Monday, everyone!” Swoyer cheerfully called out to the 20-plus older adults seated throughout the room. “Get ready! It’s going up to 95 degrees today!”
Quickly, a hush fell over the room, and some perched just a little straighter in their chairs. This was Silver Sneakers Flex time and all looked ready to begin. In fact, many in the class said they eagerly anticipate Swoyer’s hour-long exercise sessions every Monday and Wednesday at noon at Susquehanna View.
“This is my life. These are my friends now and Jesse is fantastic,” stated Kristen Swainston, 51, of Harrisburg, who lives with multiple sclerosis. “Jesse is very motivating, he’s knowledgeable, and he cares. I am trying desperately to stay out of a wheelchair. There’s lots of things I can’t do, but I still can walk on my own. Coming here really helps me.”
Silver Sneakers is an exercise program targeted especially to seniors, and Swoyer gently leads participants through strength and cardio exercises using lightweight dumbbells, stretch bands and small Pilates balls, all punctuated by hydration breaks and shared laughter.
If it weren’t for this, Susquehanna View resident Rita Hoverter, 73, noted, she’d “just be upstairs watching TV, getting stiffer day by day.”
Although classes are held at the Susquehanna View complex that houses residents age 62 and older, as well as younger handicapped/disabled individuals, the general public is welcome to participate in the classes, said Swoyer.
“Jesse puts a lot of humor in it,” said participant Mike Stewart, who also volunteers at Susquehanna View. “That’s why I like him. Plus, he exercises every part of the body. When I first started, I was a little sore, but then it goes away. I can definitely tell a difference with things since I started this last year.”
Swoyer said that his favorite part about leading the class is “the awesome people you meet and the relationships you develop with them over time.”
Dorothy Sebastian, of Camp Hill, is one of those people. She began exercising with Swoyer around five years ago at the Center of Independent Living of Central Pennsylvania. When sessions there were discontinued in early 2017, Sebastian followed Swoyer to Susquehanna View.
“She asked me to come here,” Swoyer recalled.
As it turns out, Sebastian didn’t stop there.
While at the beach this summer, Swoyer was surprised to learn from WHP-TV CBS 21 that he was the most recent recipient of the Jefferson Award, “a prestigious national recognition system honoring community and public volunteerism in America,” according to the award website. The station began accepting local nominations for the award earlier this year through a partnership with Donegal Insurance Group “to honor individuals making meaningful contributions to our community and a lasting impact on the lives of others.”
As it turned out, Sebastian submitted Swoyer’s winning nomination. Appropriately, in early August, CBS 21 newscaster Robb Hanrahan and a Donegal Insurance Group representative presented Swoyer with the medal at Susquehanna View.
“I wanted everyone to know about all the good that (Swoyer) does,” Sebastian explained about her nomination. “It’s not only the good he does here, but the good he does for the entire community.”
Through Silver Sneakers, Swoyer sponsors community outreach drives, asking his class participants to elect beneficiaries for monthly donation drives. Past recipients include the American Heart Association, the Bethesda Mission and the Humane Society of Harrisburg.
Nonetheless, Swoyer is characteristically modest about being honored with a Jefferson Award.
“Just knowing that your work is being recognized is an honor,” he said. “When people show up here to be with me, that’s the award.”
Michael Donmoyer of Lemoyne has shown up for four years. He believes that Swoyer has helped change his life.
“Jesse got me to stop drinking. He got me to recognize that I had a problem,” explained Donmoyer, 50, who is confined to a wheelchair after a traumatic brain injury. “Not only am I reaping the benefits from that, but there’s also benefits elsewhere. My mobility has increased. So has my independence and a whole bunch of other stuff.”
“But most of all, I built a friendship,” he said.
To learn more about Jesse Swoyer and Silver Sneakers Flex, visit www.jesseswoyer.com.