Volunteer Hero: Michelle Watkins Steps Up to Challenge
Some people wear their hearts on their sleeves. Progress Village Senior Nutrition Center members proclaim their motto, Keep It Movin', on the backs of their purple T-shirts.
For five years, Michelle Watkins has helped the enthusiastic group do just that. Michelle designs and leads line-dance and Zumba routines at the Center several times a week. The dance and fitness sessions last from 50 to 90 minutes, and are demanding workouts. But they're not just about exercise.
"I enjoy seeing everyone," says participant Bonnie Wesley. "We're just like family."
Michelle acknowledges the sessions are as much fun as frolic. "We cut up a lot," she says. "It's just a fun, friendly way to exercise. You don't even realize that you're working up a sweat."
Most participants are women, but a couple of men join in. They dance for themselves and to entertain others. Last year the group appeared with counterparts from Town 'N Country Senior Center in a "flash mob" routine at the WestShore Plaza shopping mall. "We came rolling in with our music and just started dancing," Michelle says.
Hillsborough County Aging Services offers an array of activities at Senior and Nutrition & Activity centers throughout the county. There are exercise and educational classes, games, health and wellness programs, social events, and meals. Residents age 50 and older are encouraged to get involved.
Michelle says seniors don't need to stay home. There is so much to do, and there are so many friendly people to meet, at the County senior centers. Anyone wishing to join her dance and exercise routines may do so. "You can sit in a chair and do Zumba," she says.
Nothing slows down Michelle, including an oxygen tank strapped to her torso. "She is right out there with us," Bonnie says. "She's showing us, not just telling us."
Michelle, the youngest of four sisters, began dancing when she was 4 years old. She worked for the federal government and ran a dance school in the Washington, D.C./Maryland area. Upon moving to Hillsborough County in 2011, she soon began leading dance sessions.