New Program Redefines Wellness for Older Adults

The Stifel Fine Arts Center is in the midst of one of its greatest programs yet. The Full Life Art and Wellness Program through Oglebay Institute is for adults over the age of 65 that want to have fun and learn new skills.

The Full Life Art and Wellness Program include activities ranging from creating charcuterie boards to technology lessons and intergenerational storytelling. Nikki Harder who leads the courses throughout the eight-week program is a certified occupational therapy assistant (COTA), senior fitness specialist and has over 30 years of experience working with older adults.

“Each class has a different focus, so participants can try new things without the worry of an eight-week commitment. Equally important, there is time built-in to every session for the participants to get to know each other and socialize a bit,” said Harder.

Program participant Colleen Mindzak shows off a charcuterie board that she made during one of the Full Life Arts and Wellness workshops.

“The class activities include improv games, home safety education and activities, cardio drumming, nutrition education, strength and balance and paint and sip.”

In addition to Harder’s bachelor’s degree in Therapeutic Recreation, she is also a certified falls prevention specialist – which is important in her work as falling is a common concern among aging adults. Harder also works as a certified occupational therapy assistant for Cameron Nursing & Rehabilitation Center and provides these services in an in-home health setting for Wetzel County Home Care. 

“I have loved working with the older adult population in a variety of settings for over 30 years. I started to really notice that the availability of regular activities for seniors in Ohio County is very limited, and felt the pull to do something about that,” said Harder.

“I contacted Danielle Cross McCracken, president of Oglebay Institute, to ask if any such program had ever been considered. She liked the idea!”

McCracken then reached out to Cynthia Morrison, Executive Director of the River Valley Health Foundation seeking funding to support the program.  

“We were approved for funding in January and the program started in April. All the pieces have fallen into place and I couldn’t be more thrilled,” said Harder.

McCracken is excited to have more opportunities available that are inclusive for all age groups as well.

“The community is at the heart of all we do at Oglebay Institute. We are always looking for new ways to engage people of all ages and abilities to experience the joy, connection and growth that is facilitated through the arts,” said McCracken.

“Many of the older adults in our community have told us they preferred daytime programs. Fortunately, we were able to secure funding that allowed us to develop a program under the direction of Nikki Harder.”

Workshops That Redefine Health and Wellness

So, what can students expect from this program? One of the more upbeat classes, cardio drumming, will involve participants creating their own beat to some fun music. This one gets the heart pumping and the hands moving.

The improvisation class will put students’ acting skills to the test while laughing up a storm and making new friends. 

Tim Thompson (standing), leads an improv workshop with students in the Full Life Arts and Wellness Program.

The strength and balance class will focus less on getting fit and more on staying safe at home. Participants will learn how to enjoy exercise at home while reducing the risk of falling. An additional course will also focus on health and nutrition. 

The storytelling portion of this program welcomes special guests from a local elementary school who will partner with participants to tell their life stories. The children will then create a book of all the adventures told to them. 

“Wheeling Country Day School fifth grade will be participating in the storytelling session,” said Harder. “Tim Thompson, director of performing arts at Oglebay Institute, partnered with me for the improv session and I am teaching the remainder.”

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Participants will also learn about technology, specifically how to navigate the internet and use smartphones safely. 

And this wouldn’t be a Stifel Fine Arts program without a little artistry attached. Grab a cup of coffee and a brush for the paint and sip class. Beginners and experts alike are all welcome.

Positive Reviews From Participants

“Thanks to the support of the River Valley Health Foundation, we were able to work with Nikki to establish the framework for this program and put it into motion,” said McCracken.  

“The feedback we have received has been so very positive.”

When asked about her favorite course offering, Harder had a hard time choosing just one. “I’m excited for folks to try each activity, honestly! The sessions are so widely varied, but I think it’s so important to continue to try new and different things, even in retirement,” she said. 

“Many of the participants were very reluctant to start with an improv session, but they had a ball!  They’re learning new things, meeting new people and having fun. That’s what I’m excited for!”

Harder firmly believes these courses are vital for the health and wellbeing of the Ohio Valley’s mature adults.

“Seniors are already at risk for social isolation and depression, but when you add the last two years of isolation in a pandemic, the statistics get even worse. This program offers the opportunity to re-enter the social world in a safe way, to learn ways to keep themselves healthy, and to try out some new hobbies,” said Harder.

“The National Wellness Institute defines wellness as, ‘an active process through which people become aware of, and make choices toward, a more successful existence.’  That includes taking care of both physical and mental health!”

The eight-week program currently has 18 registered participants. 

“After the first week of class, I had a participant call me to say thank you. She noted that the last couple of years have been very challenging-physically and in a social sense and this program is exactly what was needed,” said McCracken. 

“That feedback meant so much as it reinforced the positive physical, cognitive and social benefits that we hoped to bring through this program.”

Harder believes the classes will inspire these people to venture out and be unafraid of making friends and learning new things. 

“In addition to practical things like exercises to improve strength and balance, I hope participants are learning that they can do things that they thought they couldn’t do. I hope they’re a little braver, a little more confident in their knowledge and abilities, and a little less fearful of the unknown,” said Harder.

“We all have a choice to get busy living or get busy dying. We can all help each other thrive, but it takes a little collective risk to make it happen. Be brave. Put yourself out there. Try something new. Get busy living!”

The current program ends the week of May 16 with additional workshops being created for the summer. A sampler eight-week course will be offered in the Fall and possible individual classes in the future beyond that.

To enroll in the Full Life Art and Wellness Program, you can register online at, call 304-242-7700 or visit the Stifel Fine Arts Center in Wheeling. Enrollment is $95 and $85 for Oglebay Institute members.

Classes are available on Tuesdays at 1 p.m. and Fridays at 10 a.m. For financial assistance or transportation inquiries, please call 304-242-4200.

• With a background in journalism and being a true Wheeling native, Jessica Broverman was destined to work with Weelunk. She holds a degree in journalism with a minor in criminal justice and works with Williams Lea Tag as a legal proofreader. When she isn’t typing away for Weelunk or WLT, she is enjoying a coffee at one of her many favorite spots in Wheeling, spending time with friends, or having fun with her husband Zachary and their two cats, Proctor and Max.