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Hirsch Wellness Network isn’t letting social distancing keep its cancer patients, survivors, and caregivers artless and alone at home during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Louise Grape, president and founder of Hirsch Wellness Network, said operations had to be reinvented by moving the free art, writing, and yoga classes online via Zoom on March 23, all thanks to their board member and “tech guru,” Bill Payne.

Grape said Hirsch Wellness Network has a remarkable Board of Directors who were “incredibly engaged in this new ebb and flow” to help raise money to keep paying as many instructors a month as possible, many of whom are also cancer survivors and caregivers that rely on their teaching income now more than ever before. Some of the instructors who jumped right in at the beginning included Bob Nordbruch, Catherine Crowder, Molly Haile, Vanessa McCormick, Mavis Liggett, Bill Savage and Terry Brown. Grape said the community makes it possible, along with the Network’s many volunteers.

Being a survivor of four generations of breast and ovarian cancer diagnoses, Grape said during this time of social distancing, “it is really challenging, as cancer already is an isolating illness.”

“You are the only one who can take the drugs and treatments, so it is even tougher right now without having the physical presence of family and friends.”

She said Hirsch Wellness Network would continue to focus on free classes exclusively for cancer patients, survivors, caregivers, and medical staff with a “healthy blend of art and wellness” they have provided since 2008. They plan to continue their online offerings along with in-person classes when it is safe to resume. Grape said they discovered by talking with some cancer patients, who often had the emotional energy to get dressed to attend a program, have become too exhausted to make the trip for a class at the Hirsch Center. Now, with Zoom, she said some are taking the class as they lay in bed. One patient texted that she was “so thankful to feel connected to others being creative,” even when she didn’t have to do anything. Grape said another advantage of the Zoom classes is for caregivers who can better attend evening and Saturday classes.

The weekly programs offered online include Tai Chi/Qigong, Tuesday at Triad Yoga, The Art of Crochet, Open Studio Art Experiences, Mindfulness Meditation, Wellness in Nature, Artists at Home Interviews, with more coming in May.

Grape said that all classes require online registration, starting with the ongoing Monday 6-6:45 p.m. classes, Tai Chi/Qigong Online with Bill Savage. He teaches fundamentals of Tai Chi/Qigong, which incorporates meditation in gentle, slow movements that allow anyone to participate and progress at their own pace.

Terry Brown of Triad Yoga continues his weekly Tuesday 4-5:15 p.m. online yoga class, that Grape said attracts as many as 30 people. Brown recommends participants to have a mat, or stationary carpet, as well as a strap/tie/belt, and a block or stack of books/sturdy box and a blanket/towel.

Grape said the Network is excited to begin a new Wednesday (4/15-5/20) class from 6-7:30 p.m. called, “Resting in Awareness,” which is a six-week mindfulness meditation series with Ash Poirier. Poirier, a United States Navy veteran, and a physician assistant, said she helps others “reap the many benefits of meditation such as improved sleep, increased happiness, and better brain function.” Her studies with masters in the field since 2011 include Jack Kornfield and Tara Brach, and other teachers in the mindfulness community.

She said that on Thursdays from 1-1:30 p.m., the four-part pop-up series class, “Wellness in Nature Online,” continues with Catherine Crowder. Crowder offers interactive outdoor opportunities “to play and discover the power of nature through patterns, colors and textures to rejuvenate our spirits and be refreshed.” Grape said this class helps “restore your sense of well being through the sights, sounds and smells of nature, from an attendees’ backyard, apartment balcony, or even looking at a beautiful landscape photo from their bed.”

The usual Saturday Therapeutic Aquatics at Club Fitness remains canceled due to this unprecedented health crisis.

Grape said that registration is required through the Hirsch website calendar, and the day before the scheduled class, a secure Zoom link and password will be provided for each session. Participants are asked to log on 15 minutes early, to ensure their technology is working, and that everyone is comfortable and ready to participate in the session. She said to check back often as Hirsch is adding new online programs frequently.

Hirsch Wellness Network, a 501(c)(3)nonprofit, has been dedicated to building a cancer support community since 2008. Hirsch Wellness Network connects cancer patients and survivors, caregivers, family, and friends with creative tools and self-care strategies that provide emotional support during treatment into survivorship and beyond.

Wanna get involved? 

Mondays (6-6:45 p.m.), Tai Chi/Qigong, Tuesdays (4-5:15 p.m.), Terry Brown Yoga, Wednesday (4/15-5/20), 6-7:30 p.m. “Resting in Awareness” a six-week mindfulness meditation series, Thursday (1-1:30 p.m. four-part pop-up series class), “Wellness in Nature Online,” register online.

TERRY RADER is a freelance writer/editorial/content/copy, creative consultant/branding strategist, communications outreach messenger, poet and emerging singer/songwriter.

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