As we move from warm summer breezes and time on the beach to a crisp fall chill in the air, region residents are beginning to seek out more indoor activities. Luckily, the Merrillville Parks and Recreation Department has a nice lineup of fall and winter activities for all ages.

From yoga to line dancing to aerobics, there are plenty of indoor classes to keep community members active when Mother Nature brings colder weather our way. Parks director Jan Orlich says that exercise classes for adults and seniors are some of their most popular programs. “We get a lot of participation for those,” she says.

Activities for seniors include “Sit & Fit” exercise classes, “Brain Aerobics” and yoga. Some of the senior activities even come with no cost at all, such as the “Popcorn and a Movie” days and the Pinochle Group.

Another extremely popular event has been the senior meeting, where Meals on Wheels brought in lunch. “It was so big that we had to turn away approximately 200 people. We have a small facility and could only fit about 50 for lunch,” she says.

A Haven for Older Adults

Orlich says that a big part of her job is assessing the community and addressing the needs of the community. Noticing the increased need for adult day care programs, the Merrillville Parks Department is in the process of implementing a program called “Seniors On-The-Go.”

“We have more and more children taking care of parents now, and they need a place to take them during the day,” Orlich says. “We can provide a place with activities for them.”

Orlich says that Merrillville Parks is the first parks department in the area to offer a program like this for older adults. She adds that cost was a concern and that such programs can cost about $90 a day or more, but they will be able to offer it in Merrillville for just $45 a day.

Among the activities that will be available are exercise classes, art classes and ballroom dancing. “If they don’t want to do what is scheduled, we will set up arts and crafts that they can participate in,” she says. A minimum number of enrollees is needed to begin the program.

Another advantage for those needing the service is that you are not obligated to sign up long-term. “We have found that there are some caregivers who sometimes just need a break and they can register for one or two days a week and do it based on their schedule,” Orlich says. “We’re trying to make it convenient for those who are caregivers. We want to do what we can to help them manage their life. It’s not a five-day-a-week commitment.”

A Renewed Commitment

Orlich says that a big challenge she faces is letting the public know all that is available. “Due to the budget crisis, Merrillville had budget constraints where the parks suffered a little,” she says. “We’re now moving forward and supporting services for the community, and we came out with the first spring/summer brochure since 2006 or 2007. We are committed to providing services for Merrillville. Our biggest hurdle is letting people know we are here and are here to provide services to the community.”

Recently, a day trip to Four Winds Casino in New Buffalo, Michigan, was popular and during the fall and winter, staff will be planning for new trips. “We surveyed participants and there is interest in wine tours, craft beer tours and boat tours in Chicago, so we’ll research in the winter and come up with the best possible price we can so that it can go in the next spring and summer brochure.”

Active Kids

The parks department also has several offerings for kids, including music, art and dance classes. According to Orlich, the best-attended youth sessions have been gymnastics, karate and soccer.

Orlich is hopeful that a community recreation center is in Merrillville’s future. “It’s something we are looking at. Talks have just begun,” she says. “That would help us reach some of the youth. Teenagers are hard to accommodate, and a gym would help with that.”

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