Tuesday, February 26, 2008

PLUS program provides health and wellness services to deaf community

By SUZANNE NORMAND BLACKWOOD • Staff Writer (Tennessean) • February 26, 2008 Mike Helms considers the new PLUS Program at the League for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing a "blessing." Before the program existed, services such as counseling, wellness programs and programs to educate people about various health topics were not easily available to people who are hard of hearing, deaf or deaf-blind. Many organizations that are set up to offer these kinds of services "have no foundation to help people who rely on sign language," Helms said with the help of interpreter Jessica Sponseller, who is also the program's director. Some, he added, don't even provide interpreters or transcribers. "Their culture doesn't match," he said. But the PLUS Program will "break down barriers." Wellness, counseling, PLUS more The PLUS (Positive Living for Ultimate Success) Program offers health risk screenings; educational presentations on a variety of health-related topics; intervention programs in weight management, smoking cessation and stress management; counseling services; social activities; and talks on spiritual matters. The League will also provide interpreters and transcribers. Interpreters use sign language and the spoken word. Transcribers transcribe the spoken word into print that shows up on a computer screen. The program, which is through a partnership with Saint Thomas Health Services' Wellness Division, is partly being funded by a $76,000 grant by Baptist Healing Trust of Nashville. "The medical and some the physical are what we're focusing on with Saint Thomas," said Sponseller, who has a master's degree in counseling from Trevecca Nazarene University. Classes in aerobics, dance, yoga and weight management will be offered at the league. Some will be designed specifically for seniors. Participants will also have access to Saint Thomas' Wellness Center and the pool at Baptist Hospital. Sponseller said incentive programs will be offered to motivate participants. Dr. Denny Porr, executive director of the Saint Thomas Wellness Center, will write about various health-related topics, such as cholesterol, diabetes and heart disease, and this information will be interpreted for program participants. Sponseller said there would be support groups, as well as classes on topics such as anxiety, depression, financial management and tax preparation. The financial management portion will teach both adults and youth how to manage money, as well as help adults who are struggling financially. There will also be seminars offered simply to stimulate the mind, Sponseller said. Social activities will be offered at the League and off-site. The program will offer a choir in which members sign the songs. A lifestyle change Among the social activities offered is a "Mommy Lunch." Helms, whose wife, Gina, is involved, said "Mommy Lunch" gives mothers a chance to share their experiences and socialize. The purpose of the "Mommy Lunch" is also to educate mothers about issues related to motherhood. Sponseller said the League is working with area agencies that are already providing counseling to some of its clients. But the services being offered now are limited, and the plan is to offer full counseling services. The spiritual focus of the program will concentrate helping participants in "finding an inner peace, building self-awareness and self-confidence," she said. With the program being so comprehensive and inclusive, Sponseller said, she believes this will encourage consistent participation. The goal is to "make this a lifestyle change, not just a one-time event." 'PLUS can be the answer' Helms, who is on the executive board for the League and on Wellness Advisory Committee, said Nashville is a great place to launch the program. A large number of deaf people live here, but also hard of hearing and the deaf-blind, he said. Helms said many people, especially seniors, are really excited about the wellness portion of the program. This will help them prepare for their futures as older adults, he said. Also, he said, the counseling services offered will add to the confidentiality between the client and the counselor, because, in the past, the client had to go through an interpreter. Helms said encouraging adults in the program to lead healthier lifestyles will help them be better role models for the youth. "The best thing about (the) program," he said, is it will "educate people who have questions, problems. "PLUS can be the answer."

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