Arnita Cole is a native Chicagoan who moved to Huntsville, Alabama (the home of NASA Marshall Space Flight Center) after retirement in 2012. As a young college graduate, Arnita was recruited into state government and over time, was promoted to a senior level position in health administration. She worked for the State of Illinois for nearly 35 years in that capacity, supervising multiple disciplines including nurses, dietitians, and environmental health specialists. She considers herself a young retiree.
“When I began my career, I got the idea of retiring young by watching a program about a young man who, in his later years, retired much earlier than his peers. That example inspired me to structure my career so that I would be able to enjoy a retirement that was at least equal to the number of years I had worked on my job. So, I put everything in motion, got my ducks in a row and made wise financial decisions, so I was able to make it happen.”
Even with all her pre-retirement planning, an essential aspect was relocating to a state where the tax rate and cost of living was lower than a big city like Chicago.
Huntsville is a melting pot of people from all over the US because much of the working population is comprised of NASA employees as well as Redstone Military Base. The diversity across age, income, and ethnicity was very appealing to Arnita and enabled her to blend right in.
Arnita spent a good number of years as a single parent (raising a daughter, Arnita Jr. who eventually became an MIT graduate) and learned the art of being alone, but never lonely. She has always felt quite comfortable going “solo” to different activities and events.
“I’m a social butterfly by nature. I love to talk and being with people. But I don’t let being single stop me from doing anything.”
Moreover, she made a point to be proactive in seeking out new relationships. She recognized that the only way to make new friends is to get out and be friendly because people don’t just fall in your lap!
“I didn’t want to allow the fact that I was in a new environment to cause me to get into a rut so I hit the ground running. I started volunteering at 5-6 different organizations including mentoring teenage girls in the housing projects.”
She became a volunteer hospice visitor and she also volunteered for the North Alabama Medical Reserve Corps (NAMRC) for disaster relief (which taught Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move program at preschools ) when they weren’t activated. She also spent time helping on a local AARP board and a nonprofit organization, attending concerts, and enjoying the movies!
Initially, she wanted to sign up for the senior center when she moved down to Huntsville. The center offered fitness classes and lots of other activities.
“I thought this is wonderful. I went down and said I’m here to sign up. They asked me my age and then told me I was too young to join!”
Arnita had to wait until she turned 60 to enjoy the senior center's benefits. She got her foot in the door thereby doing volunteer work at the center and elsewhere. The senior center led to one of her rewarding friendships with Vi, another transplant from the Chicago area.
“At my age it's hard developing friendships because a lot of women and more mature persons already have established, long-standing friendships.”
Unfortunately, much of the in-person, pre-pandemic activities in the senior center didn’t make the transition online.
“It’s the same age range of people but they were very resistant. I think much of it was due to fear - fear of technology.”
Initially, none of the classes transferred to remote, online engagement, despite Arnita and others requesting that the center gradually moves in this direction. It wasn’t until 6 months later that this started to happen. Fortunately, Arnita heard about GetSetUp.
“When I first got onboard, I thought. This is so great. There are so many classes - so much to do that I started to click everything. I wanted variety. I started taking 2-3 classes a day.”
Initially, Arnita explored classes on movies, Gmail and Google photos. And even though she gets out for her morning walk every day, initially, she wasn't so keen on Stacy’s morning exercise classes because of how early they were.
One morning she took the plunge to give 7AM (CST) exercise classes a try. She became hooked and started waking up almost daily to Stacy’s class, and she still gets in her daily walk as well to stay fit! All the changes she has made throughout the pandemic have paid off and led to a healthier lifestyle. Not only has she lost weight, but classes like yoga with Binda, chair yoga and African and Caribbean Dance with Glenda, and the Hustle with Shirley give her one more reason to get up and get moving aside from her regular walks and morning start to the day.
“One of the reasons I love GetSetUp so much is it is not Youtube. I’ve heard many folks say you can go on Youtube to learn anything, but it is not the same. I enjoy direct interaction, I want to be able to see and talk! Watching Youtube doesn’t do it for me. I thrive on the live interactions.”
The most useful skill Arnita has enjoyed with GetSetUp is learning how to really utilize her phone.
“Since my daughter is an MIT engineering grad, I would call her all the time to ask how to do things. Finally, she said I'm not going to tell you anymore. You have to learn it on your own. Now, thanks to GetSetUp I can do that. I know how to use my phone settings, Gmail, and Google.”
Best of all Arnita has learned how to use “fun faces” when she calls her 3 year old granddaughter which helps to keep her engaged and work on her attention span.
Unfortunately, Arnita has had to put aside much of her volunteer work and hasn’t been able to attend concerts which she also enjoys. Nevertheless, she’s preparing to come out of the pandemic ready to shine!
“I want to come out of this looking like a butterfly and have people tell me you look great!“
Not only is Arnita planning to look great after the pandemic, but she’s already getting plenty of practice over Zoom. She loves clothes; so she and her friend Vi have coined the term - “Zoom Ready” referring to their preparation for an online class. Indeed, even though we all are suffering through a national pandemic, Arnita doesn’t waste her wardrobe. She always strives to look fresh!
Plus she’s also taking care of practical matters. She’s having a better look at her budget considering the extra savings she’s accumulated during the pandemic by not going out.
“I was never much of a budgeter, but I need to start learning and structuring things. I took a course entitled “Introduction to Organizing & Managing Your Affairs” to help me organize documents and budget which will enable me to have my house in order for my daughter if something happens. I now have everything I need, so that’s been a godsend.”
Arnita really enjoys learning and exploring new things through GetSetUp whether its local information such as How to Sign up for the Vaccine (with a Guest Speaker, Dr. Miller) or Travel with Russ (and learning about European festivals).
Moreover, thanks to GetSetUp, Arnita has the Zoom know-how to be able to continue to participate in the book club she’s been a part of for the past 25 years! Initially, people moved away and it was hard, but thanks to Zoom it’s possible again!
“Now we can all get together from different states and do the same things we used to. We all get dressed up, prepare our meals, and drinks. Then we talk about the book for about an hour and spend another four hours just chatting.”
Indeed, in today’s era, distance is no longer a barrier in preventing you from spending time with old and new friends alike. Join other like-minded people to explore new ideas together and learn new ways to connect with old friends too!
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