Donate | 415-456-9062

Vivalon’s Spanish and Vietnamese Falls Prevention

Creating equitable falls prevention for older adults

Vivalon’s Spanish and Vietnamese Falls Prevention Program Comes to San Rafael


Vivalon is now offering falls prevention programming in Spanish and Vietnamese! Last month, Bingocize launched at the Albert J. Boro Community Center (AJBCC) in the San Rafael Canal District. Because falls are one of the leading causes of serious injury in older adults, this new offering is a critical resource for the Spanish- and Vietnamese-speaking communities in Marin. We sat down with the instructors of these classes, Judy Shevelev, Vivalon Falls Prevention Lead, and Lieu Phan, AJBCC Instructor and Translator, to learn more about how these programs are impacting our community.


Judy spent the last 31 years in Mexico before coming to Vivalon. “The job I had for the first 19 years was as an instructor in an experiential study abroad program,” Judy explains. “That was a transformative learning program, so I got a lot of experience facilitating groups and travelling as well as program coordination. After that, I started my own dog training business with a partner, and we did that for 12 years before returning to the U.S. You would think the work as a dog trainer isn’t as relevant to what I’m now doing at Vivalon, but there’s so much that’s relevant: motivating people, coaching people, working with people of all different ages, and helping people with physical skills. Learning to train your dog requires a lot of coordination, and for older adults it can be harder. I think that experience has really come in handy. The other thing that’s not professional but that has been helpful is I have been practicing yoga for over 15 years, and I have been surprised at how much I’ve learned from being a student that I can now share with people in the Bingocize classes. It’s all come together!”


Lieu was born and raised in Vietnam. After escaping conflict there, she moved to the U.S. and has lived here since 1978. “Before, I worked for a bank and did bookkeeping in aviation, but when I got older, I came to work for Pickleweed and Vivalon. I worked for Vivalon a long time ago, around 2015. I did the multicultural social club where people would get together to play games and I would translate for them. Now I work at Pickleweed, helping the senior Vietnamese people with exercises, and I translate when presenters come to the center to talk about health or education. I also help with the lunch program.”


Over 13 million adults age 65 and older will fall this year, resulting in over $50 billion in healthcare costs. According to the head of trauma at Marin Health, falls are the number one reason older adults find themselves in the ER. “Falls prevention is really key to healthy aging,” says Vivalon Director of Healthy Aging, Stephanie McNally.


As the Program Lead for Falls Prevention, Judy oversees two programs designed to reduce falls in older adults: Bingocize and A Matter of Balance. “After having gone through the series now, I really am convinced by the methodology,” says Judy. “Bingo provides people with a chance to get excited and have some fun. It provides a space for social interaction, and playing bingo gives people a rest between exercises. I love the physical exercises and the educational component as well as the social component, which is equally important, if not more important. What I’m discovering is that many of the people in the English classes are retired, whereas in the Spanish and Vietnamese classes, some of the participants are still working. If you’re still in the workforce, you’re at a higher risk for falls because you’re moving about. Falls is one of the leading causes of death in older adults, and that’s true across the board. Making the programs accessible to them is infinitely more accessible, especially because we know they’ve been in our community a long time but there is a language barrier for them, so if we were only offering this program in English, we wouldn’t be able to reach them.”


Bingocize is a socially engaging, group-based program that combines exercise, health education, and the popular game of bingo. After rigorous testing and research, Western Kentucky University found that the program had over 90% retention rate while significantly improving participants’ physical, social, and mental health. Judy is seeing these same results in her current students.


“I can really tell in the last few weeks of the program how much participants have improved,” explains Judy. “People were saying it, but I could see it too. We have people all the way from former athletes to people who have had very serious falls or other kinds of injuries, and there is improvement in everyone. The program has also helped in their level of awareness. One student said that when he leaves class now and steps out the door into the street, he’s much more aware of his surroundings and where he steps. And there are little improvements, like an exercise where they might have really supported themselves on the chair or wall, and now they’re able to do it without that support or with very little.”


Last month, Judy and Lieu started the 10-week workshop at AJBCC on Tuesdays and Wednesdays in both Spanish and Vietnamese. “In the Spanish class we have more participants on Wednesdays than on Tuesdays because Wednesday is senior day at the center,” explains Judy. “Some of the participants work on Tuesdays, so it’s harder for all of them to join that day. The Vietnamese class had over 15 students though. They are a community that already knows each other and has really close ties, so it’s a social event for them to do together.”


“People like it!” says Lieu. “It helped them exercise, and the translation in Vietnamese helps them understand and bring home the exercises they learn. Normally we don’t have a big class like that. We usually have 10-12 people at a class but I told them just to come and enjoy it, and they liked it. When I ask a question, everyone answers what they think is right, but then I look at it, and it’s not, so the class helps people exercise the right way. That’s what’s most important.”


According to Lieu, one of the other important aspects of the class is offering a place for people to spend time with each other. “Some of the older Vietnamese people live by themselves, mostly women,” explains Lieu. “They come to AJBCC and talk to each other. When I ask a question, one will say one thing, one will say another thing, and then they discuss.”


“The social part is really important,” says Judy. “In the Latinx community, the grandparents or parents don’t often live with their children or other family members in their home countries. Here it is mixed, and they are in need of peers and the ability to connect with others.” One of the women in the Spanish class didn’t even know she was going to take the class that day. She just went to the center for her social time and ended up taking the class. She approached me after and said she really enjoyed it.”


Both Judy and Lieu have found their experiences teaching the classes very rewarding as they watch the students learn the exercises and engage in discussions about health, fitness, and falling. “It was energizing having contact with them and seeing how much they enjoyed it,” says Judy. “Bingocize says that bingo is the draw to get people to do the exercise, and doing it in a group is easier than doing it on their own. It was really gratifying to see they were really enjoying the exercises, so it didn’t feel as much like work. This is a program that can work for anyone. You can always scale up or scale down, and the exercises are not just about fitness, but it’s about your emotional health and being focused and feeling centered and grounded, so there’s something in it for anyone and everyone.”


Bingocize is a 10-week workshop, twice per week from April 4 to June 7 at the Albert J. Boro Community Center in Spanish and Vietnamese on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, 10:30 to 11:00 am.


Classes are also available in English at Vivalon’s Healthy Aging Center from April 3 to June 12, Mondays and Thursdays, 11:00 am to 12:00 pm.


Check out details on our class calendar here.



More to Explore

Scroll to Top