READING - Dementia Friendly Reading is an initiative started by community leaders to establish Reading as a town that empowers those with dementia and their caregivers to feel valued and actively engaged in our community.

While the initiative was started over a year ago, Dementia Friendly Reading recently hit a new milestone: the Burbank YMCA has become the first large organization to receive the Dementia Friendly Reading designation.

“When I attended the original seminar about spreading dementia awareness that the Elder Human Services Department co-sponsored with the DKJ Foundation, it struck me,” said Executive Director of the Burbank YMCA, John Feudo. “I wanted to get the YMCA involved immediately. We’re an organization that’s for all and we have a very high senior population,” he said. “I saw an automatic connection.”

While it has not been long since the Burbank YMCA has received the Dementia Friendly Reading designation, they are already seeing the benefits of participating in the program.

“I had a staff member call me and say that they saw a woman walking down the hallway and she seemed lost,” said Feudo. “The staff member knew that the person might be struggling with dementia and was able to approach her in a respectful and calming manner. Instead of jumping to conclusions or getting nervous, we can now approach these situations more effectively.”

The education that Fuedo and his staff has received stretches far beyond the gym, pools, and weight rooms of the Burbank YMCA. Two days a week, the facility sends trainers to Sanborn Place in Reading.

“They run classes that are sponsored by the DKJ Foundation, who is one of our great partners,” explained Feudo. “They’re doing chair yoga, movement classes and getting seniors engaged and active which is particularly important for people struggling with dementia.”

The Burbank YMCA also feels that their Dementia Friendly Reading designation makes their customers feel welcome. “To us, it’s sending the message that we’re equipped, we’re caring, and we’re knowledgeable about the illness and we’re able to help people,” said Feudo. “I think that’s one of the biggest benefits.”

Beyond serving those walking through their doors on a daily basis, the seminars the staff attended to earn the designation hit closer to home. “We actually discovered that a lot of our employees were affected by it personally,” said Feudo. “The first time we talked about it, there were tears around the table of people sharing their own stories. I knew it was right for my team.”

While the Burbank YMCA may be the first organization to receive the Dementia Friendly designation, Feudo hopes they are not the last: “This is something we should all be doing,” he stated. “It’s a part of being good stewards in the community and making sure our doors are available and open to everybody. I would highly recommend, especially if you have an older population coming into your facility or line of business, to have your staff participate in the Dementia Friendly Reading program.”

To learn more about Dementia Friendly Reading, please visit dfrreading.org or contact Meagan Putney at meagan@dfreading.org.

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