NORTH SMITHFIELD – May is Senior Citizens Month, and Linda Thibeault, 79, is excited about all of the programs her nonprofit organization, Aging Well Inc., is offering in its northern Rhode Island senior center spots this month, she said.
“People think we all sit around and play bingo,” Thibeault said. “And bingo is great – it’s food for your brain – but we do so much more.”
For instance, to celebrate Senior Citizens Month, many of the seniors who take tap dancing, ballroom and line dancing classes at local senior centers will be participating in a “fancy follies’’ show at the Gustav Ayotte Senior Center in Woonsocket, she said.
“I’m excited about it because people don’t realize, it’s a very professional show,” Thibeault said. “It shows people that if you make healthy choices and be your own advocate then you, well you don’t have to dance in a production, but you’ll enjoy a quality of life – an independent life in the community.”
Educating seniors about aging is a passion for Thibeault, and her work with Aging Well Inc. is a, “labor of love,” she said. Born and raised in North Smithfield, Thibeault spent 18 years as a hospital nurse before becoming a visiting nurse and then hospice nurse. She was then North Smithfield’s town administrator and served on its town council.
In 2009, Aging Well Inc. – formerly Senior Services – received a federal grant to create a senior wellness program to serve all of northern Rhode Island, and they needed a nurse. Thibeault was more than happy to come on board, she said.
“Our mission is to promote health and prevent chronic diseases,” she said. “First, we give people information on health so they can advocate for themselves. Knowledge is power.”
To reach that goal, Aging Well Inc. hosts frequent “Lunch and Learns” in the senior centers, Thibeault said.
“The second part of our mission is monitoring health. So we do blood pressure clinics, nurse consults, bone density screenings, immunizations, et cetera,” she said. “And exercise classes because research shows exercise lowers blood pressure and blood sugar.”
The various exercise programs attract quite a few seniors, she said.
“This past Monday we had over 30 people in Zumba class at Scouter’s Hall” in North Smithfield, she said. “We have bar fitness, chair yoga, mindful mediation. … People cherry pick their classes, but they will go where the programs are.”
Seniors have even enjoyed, “Senior Proms,” fashion shows and Mother’s Day specials, Thibealt said. There’s also options for seniors to work in intergenerational school partnerships or with veterans, and computer classes to teach seniors how to use Zoom to stay in contact with others over the internet.
This is all so important for seniors because it offers bonding experiences with others, she said.
During Covid lockdowns, “Everyone was so worried about kids, but the seniors had difficulty. Many didn’t have internet access,” she said. “The programs are a lot of fun and good for brains and bodies, but the true social aspect of it – the emotional support – people really bond and it’s so important.”
Thibeault also co-hosts a radio show on WOON, Senior Scene, and a local TV program, Prime of Life.
“It’s a way to get the word out to be an advocate for yourself so you can make healthy choices and be active in the community,” she said.
She also practices what she preaches. At 79, she’s still a figure skater who is competing in an ice dancing world competition in August in Concord, Mass., she said.
“It used to be ‘seniors’ meant respect. A senior in high school, a senior in college, a senior in the Senate. Now it connotes feebleness or something,” Thibeault said. “It’s not a bad thing to be a senior. I think we’re proving that.”