Bridging Access To Joy In The Outdoors For Latino Seniors

By: Giannina Posner

September 13, 2021

Category: People of the Parks

As we enter National Hispanic Heritage Month (September 15 to October 15), Three Rivers joins in honoring the contributions and cultures of Hispanic and Latino Americans. Outdoor spaces in the United States have suffered from a lack of diversity. We are working to change that, making Three Rivers a safe and accessible place.  

In honor of this month, we are joining Outdoor Latino Minnesota, Bloomington Wildlife Refuge and Hennepin County Library to celebrate with an event called Celebrando Juntos (Celebrating Together) on Saturday, September 18. Together we are creating a safe, inclusive and welcoming place to share our traditions and culture and be together as a community.

Some of the most fulfilling pieces of my work with Three Rivers is bringing the Latino community into the outdoors and seeing my community interacting with the parks. From the smallest babies to our eldest residents, it fills me to the brim to see the entire community finding joy in the parks. People send me photos of their families kayaking, canoeing and camping for the first time in their lives — and they’re having an amazing time! During this hard season with the pandemic and struggling economy, the outdoors offers a safe place to let go and be in nature, which we all know has a multitude of health benefits that go far beyond physical health.  

For all of these reasons, we are working hard at Three Rivers to make sure that the local Latino community knows that the parks are here, open to use and can open doors to myriad overall wellness benefits — and so far, it is flourishing!  

Connecting Latino Seniors To The Outdoors 

We launched the first Latino Senior Engagement pilot program in March 2020. The primary focus of this program was to engage Latino seniors with the objective of reducing social isolation and loneliness. We sought to accomplish this by providing a place where Latino seniors could connect with one another and find overall wellness through active experiences in the outdoors.  

On March 11, 2020, 10 Latino seniors came to Fish Lake Regional Park Pavilion for a day of music, food and fun. Some participants came from Centro Tyrone Guzman and others were residents of Dayton Mobile Park. We had representatives from Age-Friendly Maple Grove and Hennepin Public Health as well as the director of Marketing and Community Engagement at Three Rivers.  

 

The kickoff was a great success and we wrapped up with a lively time of dancing, an integral part of Latino culture. Unfortunately, a few days later, the pandemic hit hard, and we needed to suspend the program. 

I am a Community Engagement Specialist at Three Rivers, a member of Age-Friendly Maple Grove and a member of the Maple Grove Hospital Community Engagement Advisory Team. I also have a strong passion for the Latino senior community. I knew that even before the pandemic hit, Latino seniors were already experiencing loneliness, isolation and hopelessness.

They additionally face barriers with transportation, health care disparities, and a language and/or literacy barrier that keeps free senior programming out of their reach. Adding the pandemic only increased these issues. Keeping seniors physically safe came at the expense of social and mental health in many cases. Because of that, I was excitedly awaiting a time when the Latino Senior Engagement program could restart safely.  

Following the CDC’s safety guidelines, plans to restart began in late spring of 2021. We were aware that all the participants were vaccinated, and with funding from Hennepin County Public Health and Maple Grove Hospital, we were able to offer engagement events from June to August 2021, including transportation. This time, we extended the program to 20 Latino seniors from Centro Tyrone Guzman and other Latino residents from the northwest metro area. 

Giannina Posner and a elderly woman hug and smile at the Fish Lake Regional Park Pavilion.

Finding Community In The Parks 

In June, we had two group outings. The first group went to Silverwood Park in St. Anthony, which offered a program focused on the arts and environment. The program was led by an artist and naturalist who taught the group about local native birds. The participants were also able to share about the birds that are native to their countries of origin. Next, we took a bird-watching walk where we located birds using binoculars provided by the park. Then participants used nature inspiration to create their own watercolor paintings. The program ended with lunch in the cafeteria where we socialized, laughed and shared our experience.  

The second group from Centro Tyrone Guzman also came to Silverwood Park. Six of the participants are affected by Alzheimer's and were joined by their caregivers. The group went for a walk with magnifying glasses to identify plants and their parts. Then they enjoyed a class about plants and created their own piece of art using a wax color technique. They had a lot of fun sharing, painting and walking in the park. It was followed by lunch, refreshments and time together. 

The Latino seniors group listens as Three Rivers staff teach about plants.

A man uses a magnifying glass to get a close-up view of some flowers in a planter.

A woman wearing a mask holds up a painting she completed at Silverwood Park in St. Anthony.

July brought another outing--this time the group visited Gale Woods Farm in Minnetrista. This was a very special experience because many of the participants were raised or worked on farms in their countries of origin. The seniors explored the barn and met the animals, interacted with chicken, cattle, sheep, guard dogs and even Marty the llama. They also enjoyed seeing all the farm produce and purchasing many vegetables, fruit and honey from the Farm Market. This was a day full of joy, and it was especially wonderful to hear about the great memories the participants were reminded of from their past. They had food in the picnic area and enjoyed being outdoors together.  

Members of the Latino seniors group explore the vegetable gardens.

Members of the Latino seniors group pet sheep at Gale Woods Farm.

Our last outing of summer was in August where the Latino senior group visited Fish Lake Regional Park for a Zumba class, a walk through the park and then a great time of Bingo was followed by lunch and social time. The Zumba class was the highlight of the day because many Latinos enjoy music and dancing. Many expressed how grateful they were for the opportunity to get outdoors and see our parks. For many of the seniors, this was their first time being in our parks.  

“We need more programs like this. I enjoyed the visit to the farm, the painting class, and the Zumba class was fantastic! I have also enjoyed meeting other seniors like me”

— Latino Senior Engagement program participant 

Participants in the Senior Latino Engagement group do Zumba outside at Fish Lake Regional Park.

Dismantling Barriers & Looking Ahead 

Being able to provide this program to our Latino senior community has opened a whole new world of adventure and nature. It provides social opportunities, positive mental health, physical wellness and the chance to learn more about Three Rivers. Offering guided events in Spanish, along with transportation, breaks down many barriers that the Latino senior community faces and essentially stops them from enjoying our parks. 

Seeing the elders in my community enjoying our beautiful resources without barriers and being a part of making that accessible is unexplainably rewarding. For all of these reasons, I would love the opportunity to grow this program and see more and more Latino seniors being able to engage with our park system. A huge thanks to Maple Grove Hospital and Hennepin County Public Health for supporting this program! 

 “This program has been a huge benefit to me personally in every way: emotionally, spiritually, mentally, and physically.” 

— Latino Senior Engagement participant

Join Us This Weekend & In The Future 

Please join us in bringing the outdoors to Latinos of all ages! Starting with Celebrando Juntos on September 18 at Hyland Lake Park Reserve from 11 AM–3 PM. Drop in for a little while or stay the whole time. The event will be all in Spanish. We will have food, music, dance, books, crafts, bike rides and more. Then continue with our events throughout the year.  

If you know of Latino seniors who would like to be a part of this program in 2022, please feel free to contact me for more information at Giannina.Posner@ThreeRiversParks.org or 763-694-2046. We can’t wait to see everyone! 

About the Author

Three Rivers Community Engagement Specialist Giannina Poster smiles for a photo in front of a lake.

Giannina is originally from Peru and has been in the US for over 25 years. She is a Community Engagement Specialist at Three Rivers. Giannina has many years of experience doing community engagement. She has remarkable talent for connecting with people and facilitating meaningful conversations between park staff and community members and organizations. She enjoys being with people and is very involved in her community. In her free time, Giannina likes to be outdoors with family and friends, loves soccer, and enjoys making videos. 

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