Karen Way: Blessed to Have Found Beebe Programs

Free classes, coaching helped Karen find her way
Karen with Zumba instructor Kelly Serpico.

Karen Way moved to Lewes just over two years ago. She wanted to live closer to family and moved into an apartment that would be her first real home of her own.

Her husband of 34 years had recently passed away. Her parents had passed away earlier and she found herself on her own for the first time in her life.

“It was a scary time for me. After my husband passed away, I knew I needed to sell our home. I initially moved into a fixer upper condo not far from our home, but it turned out badly. I had cousins in the Bethany Beach area and have fond memories of time spent with my parents there, so I decided to come to Delaware,” she recalls.

Karen’s daughter lives in New York City with her husband and two daughters. Karen knew she could easily take Amtrak from Delaware to the city to visit.

About a year after living in Delaware, Karen’s oldest granddaughter became blind. She was diagnosed with a rare gene mutation that caused sudden blindness at age 3.

“This change in our beloved child was traumatic for our whole family,” Karen said. “I felt helpless and had overwhelming emotions thinking about my granddaughter’s new normal and what her future would be.”

Karen’s daughter and son-in-law were actively working with resources in their community, but being many miles away left Karen feeling deeply uneasy.

Karen started to fall into a depression. For the first time, her faith was not overcoming her fears. She wasn’t eating well, she wasn’t sleeping well, and she felt more anxious than ever before.

“I was basically a mess. I was gaining weight and that was putting stress on my heart condition. My blood pressure was up and my doctor was concerned,” she said. “I knew I needed to do something.”

 

Finding the Power of Connection

Karen was skimming through the local newspaper when she found what she needed.

“There was a class about holiday stress, and I thought I would try it out. It was through the library and then it led me to being open to taking more classes at the library,” Karen recalls.

Beebe’s Integrative Health and Population Health teams offer a variety of free classes throughout Sussex County. These classes offer education and skills-training to help empower individuals to take charge of their health – mind and body – in a sustainable way. In addition, Population Health care team members provide free health screenings at community events throughout the year.

“I first met Beebe Health Coach Rita Williams after the ‘Embodied Mindfulness’ class. I remember when I saw the description, thinking – wow, this is exactly what I need,” she said with a smile.

She attended the class and was amazed by how open and welcoming it was, whether you already knew about mindfulness or not. “I thought I would be uncomfortable, but I really wasn’t. It was taught in such an embracing way that I really felt safe and then empowered.”

Karen went on to take a variety of classes such as personalized medicine, Pranayama – yogic breathing, cultivating kindness (in ourselves), practicing meditation, and many more.

“Once I realized it was a comfortable atmosphere, it opened me up to continuing to try various classes,” Karen said. “Many of them were at the Lewes Public Library, a place I am familiar with. I often take my granddaughters there during summer visits.”

It was at the Lewes library that she met Children’s Librarian and Program Coordinator Jennifer Noonan. Jen took an interest in Karen and her granddaughter and would stay in touch by inviting them to come early to programs so the child could experience what to expect in the programs a bit before everyone else arrived.

Jen also told Karen about a social worker contact she had who might know of programs or resources for blind children.

“When I met Joanne Friend, the social worker, we immediately connected. I shared my concerns and anxiety about my granddaughter and she was helpful and compassionate. She promised to research resources and when she got back to her office, there was a flyer on her desk promoting a fair for the visually impaired, which was to be held the following week in Dover. It was clearly meant to be,” Karen said.

Karen attended the fair and learned so much about programs, resources, and ways that people living with visual impairment can connect with the world around them.

“It was so enlightening and it really helped me find peace and begin to come to terms with my granddaughter’s new life. God’s timing is impeccable,” Karen said.

She added: “Between learning about all the available resources and embracing what I learned in the Beebe classes, I could feel myself becoming lighter. Our basic human need for connection brings us together and helps us feel less alone.”

Another way Karen enjoys connecting is through Zumba classes, primarily with Kelly Serpico at Coastal Dance Academy in Villages of Five Points.

“I absolutely love Zumba. When I am doing the workout, I can feel myself lighting up and it energizes me,” Karen says.

With Kelly’s encouragement, Karen completed training to become a certified Zumba instructor, even though she isn’t sure she wants to solo-teach classes.

“Zumba is my outlet and my preferred way to exercise,” Karen said. “I try to do it every day. I really encourage others to try different exercise classes to find what they enjoy. It makes all the difference because I am eager to go to class and have that experience.”

 

Gratitude for Health Coaching

Karen was talking to Rita Williams after a Beebe Integrative Health class when Rita shared that she also works with individuals one-on-one. Karen decided to try it out.

“I was nervous about health coaching because I wasn’t sure I could do it or really what to expect, however, Rita puts you at ease. She focuses on your personal goals – not your doctor’s goals, not her goals for you, but your own vision of wellbeing and priorities,” Karen said. “That makes a huge difference.”

One of Karen’s first goals was to improve her health so that she could manage her weight and heart condition without needing additional medication.

Karen and Rita met regularly; they explored what she was currently doing to support her wellbeing, where she wanted to make changes and, together, reflected on Karen’s progress.

“It’s been a privilege to partner with Karen in her journey,” Rita said. “I have seen her shift in so many ways – with increased self-awareness and focus on her own self-care practices – she is exploring what she likes, does not like, and what she needs and wants. I can feel her confidence growing, with new skills and practices, and shifts in her sense of self as she has become empowered in this new chapter of life.”

One area Karen set as a priority to work on was reducing the amount of salt and processed foods she was eating and overall eating healthier, regular meals.

“As a widow and living alone, I was no longer motivated to cook. Working together, Rita encouraged me to try simple, new recipes and start cooking,” Karen said.

She started going to farmers markets and stores seeking fresh ingredients to try at home. In addition, she sought out convenience foods and menu items that were healthier.

And, she learned a new trick: HALT.

HALT reminds her to stop before eating and ask herself:

  • Am I Hungry?
  • Am I Angry?
  • Am I Lonely?
  • Am I Tired?

“I learned about how my emotional states could trigger a desire to eat even when I wasn’t truly hungry,” Karen said. Karen also practices the 80/20 rule and only eats until she’s 80% full.

“I am very grateful to have the opportunity to work with individuals in all different situations, in different phases of life, and throughout the continuum of wellbeing,” Rita says. “We know that lifestyle choices are integral factors in our wellbeing, and science is confirming just how significant of a role they play in our health. When people are ready to make lifestyle changes, my goal is to support them in making sustainable, positive changes, while connecting them to community resources. Ultimately, they are the ones choosing what they do, how and when; as coaches, we guide and partner with them in their journey to live well.”

Karen admits that she is growing as an individual and learning she is stronger than she thought.

“Being a widow, loneliness is inevitable and it can make you sad and anxious. By making healthy changes in my life, being around people – finding that connection – and stating all the reasons I am grateful, I’m becoming more confident and independent. Feeling supported and encouraged on my wellness journey makes life easier,” Karen said.

She added, “I feel so blessed to have found Beebe’s programs and our amazing community of resources. Rita helped me to realize that there are many people on my team – my doctor, my exercise instructors, my health coach, my family, my friends, and most importantly, ME – and having that sense of a team fills a void and helps me realize that I am not alone.”

For information about healthy living programs and services from Beebe Integrative Health and Population Health, contact Rita Williams by email at shwilliams@beebebehealthcare.org or call (302) 856-9729, ext. 2936.

Learn more about Beebe Population Health’s free health screenings: https://www.beebehealthcare.org/calendar.