Swampscott seniors stretch their minds and bodies at weekly Tai Chi and Sound Meditation classes

Benson and Snow

John Benson receives an adjustment from Nicor Snow (also known as Kāmpa Vāshi Déva).

Shelley A. Sackett

Since 2014, John Benson has travelled from his Nahant home to the Swampscott Senior Center every Tuesday to practice Tai Chi with Nicanor Snow. For Benson, who was a professional copy editor for an academic journal specializing in Asian and Western religion and philosophy, having the subjects he learned about all these years fuse in a single physical and mental practice is “quite satisfying.”

“When you feel the breathing and the movement coming together, then you know you’ve reached that special zone where you want to be,” he said. He practices with Snow twice a week, also attending his class at the Marblehead Council on Aging.

Petersen and Snow2

Paula Peterson credits Tai Chi with helping her to “slow down.”

Bonnie Harmon and Paula Peterson have also practiced twice a week for four years with Snow, known too by his spiritual name, Kāmpa Vāshi Déva. Tai chi has changed them both. “We’re always running around. With Tai Chi, you have to calm down and go slow and think. It’s very refreshing,” Peterson said.

Harmon thinks the biggest change she’s noticed in herself is that she is more peaceful. “When I concentrate, my body gets tight. Tai Chi makes me relax my body,” she said.

Snow describes Tai Chi as “meditation in motion”, a practice that helps regulate the body and increase serenity. “Tai Chi is great for balance, posture and other health benefits. It is perfect for adults and seniors who really have the time to give it,” he said.

The class meets every Tuesday at 1 p.m. at the Swampscott Senior Center at 200R Essex Street. Walk-ins are welcome. The fee is $5.00.

Snow teaches 16 Tai Chi classes a week at different community senior centers in Swampscott, Marblehead, Lynn, Boxford, Lynnfield, West Newbury and Newburyport. His classroom is multi-level, with newer and more experienced students grouped together at different ends of the room. “Everyone learns the same way. They start at the beginning of the classical form, practice it, and after they’ve mastered it, they move on to the next step,” he said.

Snow’s niche teaching at senior centers fell into his lap. Marilyn Hurwitz, director of the Swampscott Council on Aging, saw his Tai Chi Institute mentioned on the back of a Boston Globe magazine, explaining the benefits of Tai Chi. She called Snow to see if he would teach in Swampscott. Other senior centers followed suit and before long, he was up to 16 classes a week.

Born in the Philippines, Snow’s family moved to the U.S. when he was a toddler. He discovered Tai Chi as a 22-year-old, after becoming “burned out” by his many years practicing Okinawan Karate. “I needed a change in my life. I read about Qigong and Chinese energy work in the back of a Kung Fu magazine and I wondered, ‘Where do I find that? How can I get involved?”

He found a Tai Chi school in Boston and in the spring of 1983 he started training with Master Gin Soon Chu and his son. Two years later, he began his healing studies at the Lea Tam Acupuncture Center in Boston with Qigong Master Tom Tam and Dr. Ping C. Chan.

In 2000, Snow established the Seacoast Tai-Chi Club in Kittery, Maine, which he renamed the Seacoast Tai-Institute when he moved to Portsmouth, N.H. He is an instructor and trainer of Tai-Chi Chuan, Qigong healing and meditation and certified by the American Organization of Bodywork Therapy of Asia.

In addition to Tai Chi, Snow is offering “Sound Vibration Meditation” on Tuesdays at 2 p.m., right after Tai Chi. The class explores kirtan, or Hindu cultural singing, combined with light stretching and breathing exercises. The fee is by voluntary donation.

“Kirtan brings peace to the world in body, mind and soul. When you’re chanting these mantras (a word or sound repeated to aid concentration in meditation), there is a spiritual connection that happens through sound vibration,” said Snow, who brings his harmonium to accompany the chanters. “There is a healing aspect to the vibrations.”

Dennis Scolamiero and his daughter, both of Swampscott, attended both the first Sound Meditation and will be back. “It’s very moving. I’m proud to have evolved in the ways that support this,” Dennis said. “He loves to sing,” his daughter added. “It’s a great activity that we can do together.”

To those who have never tried Tai Chi, Snow offers this advice. “You have to have a lot of patience and give it a try for longer than you think. I try to coach people so they can feel the practice. You have to really feel the external movements to develop an understanding of what it feels like on the inside,” he said.

Harmon and Snow

Bonnie Harmon has been practicingTai Chi twice a week for four years.

Harmon, who hasn’t yet mastered the first form despite her four years of twice a week classes, agrees with the need to be patient. Asked if it is worth it, she replied with a huge smile, “We love him (Snow). That’s why we come.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Texting not allowed — senior and fourth grade pen pals keep alive the old fashioned tradition of writing letters

 

Paul Calsimitto and Bill Hyde, Sr

Hadley fourth grader Paul Calsimitto and his senior pen pal, Bill Hyde, Sr

 

By Shelley A. Sackett

To the casual observer, last Wednesday looked like just another noontime at the Swampscott Senior. The lunch tables were set, the bingo spinning wheel was in place, and the alluring aroma of pizza wafted from the kitchen.

 

But at 12 o’clock sharp, the Senior Center van pulled up to the front door with a surprise. When its doors opened, out poured a throng of excited and agile Hadley fourth grade students, ready to meet their senior pen pals for the first time.

 

Since last October, Julie O’Brien’s class has corresponded with volunteer seniors from Swampscott the old fashioned way: by writing letters. “This experience was wonderful. I wish the seniors had a chance to see the look on the kids’ faces when they opened their letters. It was amazing to see the joy as they discovered new things about their new friends,” O’Brien said.

 

The intergenerational program was started 6 years ago by Marilyn Cassidy as a way to connect seniors and young children. Gina Bush, whose son William is in O’Brien’s class, chaired the program this year.

Chairperson Gina Bush serves pizza to Noah Murphy

Chairperson Gina Bush serves pizza to Noah Murphy

 

“The best part is the connection the seniors made with the class,” she said as she looked around the dining room. “It’s fun to see how well some of them are getting along and to see them meet face-to-face for the first time.”

 

The exercise is not just for fun, however; there is also a pedagogic and life skills component. The students learned to write a formal letter, how to address an envelope and how to share personal information with someone they had never met.

 

When the class received mail from the senior center, all the students would open their letters and read them at their desks. Then they would all meet “on the rug” to share something new they had learned about their new friend, O’Brien said.

Hadley fouorth grade teacher Julie O'Brien

Hadley fourth grade teacher Julie O’Brien

 

Some pen pals were uncannily well matched. Student Paul Calsimitto’s father is a fireman in Revere. His pen pal, Bill Hyde, Sr. was a Swampscott fireman for over two decades, including a period as Fire Chief. “My dad was very surprised,” Calsimitto said. “He thought it was kind of funny.”

 

For Hyde, who has been part of the program since its first year and has kept in contact with several of his former pen pals, it’s not just about getting to know a fourth grader. “It’s an opportunity to learn about their parents, their brothers, sisters. It’s almost like I have another family,” he said.

 

First time pen pal Rick Pierro, who retired from his advertising agency, Designer’s Eye, has always wanted to be a big brother, but hasn’t gotten around to it yet. Although he has lots of nieces and nephews, he has no children and loved having a pen this year. “My only complaint is it takes too long between letters,” he said with a chuckle.

Noah Murphy and Rick Pierro

Noah Murphy and Rick Pierro

 

His pen pal, Noah Murphy, really liked learning about Pierro through their correspondence. What amazed him the most? “I was surprised he wants to be a champion chef and enter in the Julia Child competition,” Murphy said as Pierro grinned.

 

After lunch, seniors and fourth graders teamed up to play four rounds of bingo, bonding even more in lessons of frustration, good sportsmanship and gracious winning.

Norma Freedman and Talia Pagliaro

Norma Freedman and Talia Pagliaro

 

Norma Freedman, who chaired the program last year, was happy to just relax this year. She enjoyed her Italian ice with her pen pal, Talia Pagliaro, who was surprised to learn Freedman’s children attended Hadley and said she couldn’t have asked for a better pen pal. “Whenever she talked about something, she put a lot of thought into it,” Pagliaro said with a big smile.

Shelley Sackett and Caden Ross

Shelley Sackett and Caden Ross

 

Last but hardly least, each pen pal received a card and envelope. They addressed the envelope to themselves and exchanged them, with the intent of keeping the correspondence going over the summer. After all, as Caden Ross enthusiastically put it, “It’s fun!”

Creating intergenerational bonds the old fashioned way: by writing letters

by Shelley A. Sackett

 

 

Stanley Elementary School fourth grader Drew Hause couldn’t wait to go to school last Wednesday, June 7. Since October, he and 21 other students in Mrs. Sami Lawler’s class have corresponded with pen pals from the Swampscott Senior Center and today was the day they would finally meet them face-to-face.

 

The seniors were just as excited. For many who live far away from their own grandchildren, gaining a peek through the keyhole of a nine-year-old’s life over the course of the school year was a welcome treat during the long slog of the New England winter. Meeting them in person would be icing on the cake.

 

The intergenerational program was started years ago by Marilyn Cassidy as a way to connect seniors and young school children. For the first few years it was at Hadley Elementary School, then Clarke Elementary School, and this year its home base was Stanley.

 

 

Hause and Sackett

Pen pals Drew Hause and Shelley Sackett get ready to try their luck at bingo.

 

 

“The kids loved writing. They poured their heart and soul into their letters and I learned things while I was proofreading with them that I would otherwise not have known,” Lawler said, adding, “It was pretty special.”

 

 

Mello-Lawler-Fray-Kerr-Glynn

Mrs. Ami Lawler (second from left) and fourth grade class mom chaperones at the Swampscott Senior Center pen pal lunch.

 

 

Norma Freedman, of Swampscott, chaired this year’s Senior Center pen pal program. She has had a pen pal for many years, and even wrote to one girl throughout the summer while she was away at camp.

 

“It’s a lot of fun and it’s good for the kids. They know there’s someone in the world besides their immediate family that cares for them,” she said.

 

The biggest challenge for her? “They draw a lot on the envelopes. I’m not an artist and I don’t draw, but I tried to, to keep it interesting for them too.”

 

The students arrived at the Senior Center by van (courtesy of the Senior Center) clutching handmade decorated envelopes, presents and lunch. Their senior pen pals were already there, and squeals of delight filled the lunchroom as hugs, presents and — of course — letters were exchanged.

 

Thomas Mello presented his pen pal, retired social worker Bill Foley, with a last letter in an envelope covered with colorful drawings of his pets, a guinea pig and an aquarium full of fish. Unsurprisingly, his favorite part of the pen pal project was “drawing on the cards.”

 

Mello-Foley-Jaeger-Kerr

From left: Thomas Mello, Bill Foley and Caleb Jaeger-Kerr get to know each other over lunch.

 

 

After lunch, seniors and fourth graders played four rounds of bingo, bonding even more over lessons in frustration and good sportsmanship. Freedman reminisced how her pen pal won one game last year and hugged and kissed her. “He was so happy. It was like I gave him the world,” she said with a smile.

 

Holly Mello, Thomas’s mother and one of the class chaperones, touted the scholastic benefits of teaching kids to communicate the old fashioned way — through letters. “It’s a great way for the kids to have an applied experience to practice their writing during the school year. They have grandparents, but they see and talk to them often on the phone,” she said.

 

Even though he didn’t win at bingo, Drew Hause had a big smile on his face as he hugged his pen pal goodbye and enthusiastically invited her to continue the correspondence after school lets out for the summer.

 

He offered parting words of advice to incoming Stanley fourth grade students. “When you guys are in Mrs. Lawler’s class, and she asks if you want a pen pal, you should say yes. You’ll be so happy because then you’ll meet them and it will be so much fun!”