Wellness is On the Rise at Friends Homes

Teresa Cox is full of energy and ideas. As director of wellness at Friends Homes, she has spent 20 years developing and continually evolving the programs and activities available to residents. And she couldn’t be more excited for what’s coming next.

That’s because the upcoming expansion at Friends Homes will include a new, upgraded wellness center along with a variety of other amenities, giving Teresa even more to work with in providing a full range of opportunities for residents.

“Wellness is a continuum,” explains Teresa, “of fitness, nutrition, social, artistic and lifelong learning… I look forward being able to draw residents to the wellness center rather than them just coming for classes.”

The new wellness center will add an indoor track, a bistro with outdoor seating, more exercise and multi-function spaces, including a new fitness center with all new equipment that is more versatile. The additional amenities are designed to complement and enhance the existing heated saltwater pool, billiards area and other spaces as part of the larger expansion that features new villa apartments and a planned bridge connecting the Guilford and West areas of the Friends Homes campus.

With the construction project already underway, Teresa is understandably enthusiastic. “I can’t wait,” she adds with a laugh. “I just want to put (construction) on fast forward!”

Launching a new wellness center is nothing new for Teresa, though. She first came to Friends Homes 20 years ago to launch the then brand-new wellness center at Friends Homes. “Twenty years ago, a wellness center at a (continuing care retirement community) was more of a novel idea,” explains Teresa, who was the fitness director at the Greensboro YWCA when Friends Homes came calling.

While Friends Homes led the way in creating its own wellness center back then, Teresa acknowledges that a lot has changed over the years. This time around, Friends Homes has an advantage in creating a high-quality facility. “Now it’s an opportunity to see how to advance what we have to offer,” she says. “We get to look and select the best of what really works.”

Still, Teresa has developed a robust wellness program with a variety of activities, fitness classes and special events that keep residents engaged and curious. “My approach with wellness is to keep listening to find what’s current,” she says, “then modifying it as needed into an activity in which residents can feel good and empowered.” Courses have ranged from traditional fitness activities to yoga and Tai chi to ballet to drumming. The drumming course, which utilizes big exercise balls for the drums, proved to be one of the most popular courses she has offered. The drumming course is even still held online.

During the pandemic, Teresa and her team had to shift quickly to more online content and platforms. The learning curve proved to be steep, but relatively short for residents and for staff, instructors and trainers. “We were so lucky,” says Teresa. “We had just a few hiccups. But we really changed our whole way of doing things over night and made it work.”

Currently, the wellness program produces approximately four hours of new content every week that gets broadcast over the community’s in-house TV channel. The community recently began allowing outside fitness classes, smaller, socially distanced “outer-cize” classes, as Teresa calls them, every week. Plus, she has begun training individual residents on safe protocols in order to provide safe access to the existing exercise equipment.

“Wellness is incredibly important for all the residents,” she continues. “Let’s face it — aging will do that. It just makes you more health aware.” For Teresa it’s all about providing “a buffet of things” for residents to try, knowing from experience that the classes and activities that appeal to one group of residents can be very different from what appeals to others.

Always up for trying something new, Teresa constantly brings new programs into the community. “We’ll run programs for six to eight weeks,” she explains. “If it’s popular, we’ll keep it on the schedule. If not, we’ll move on.”

With the new wellness center on the horizon, though, Teresa is more enthusiastic than ever about the future. “Most people don’t get a chance to build a new program at their same job,” she says. “The sky’s the limit.”