Warm Hearth Village Blog

Keep informed about what is happening at Warm Hearth Village.


Residents at Warm Hearth Village have formed a new Pickle Ball ™ Club and plan to play at the Village Center at least two days per week.  Pickle Ball is a trademarked fitness craze sweeping retirement communities and it looks like a lot of fun.  Small wooden paddles and a plastic ball (like a whiffle ball) are combined with a waist high net and some cones on a flat surface and the result is what looks like a miniature version of doubles tennis.

Residents Mike and Barbara Spears, Roland Byrd and Dick Skutt formulated the plan, assembled the materials needed and games began on March 22nd.   About ten people showed up for the inaugural match and the weather has certainly been cooperative.  Byrd says they are interested in growing the club to about 12 to 15 members who participate on a regular basis.

“It’s like playing ping pong, standing on the table,” says Mike Spears, Chairman of the Pickle Ball ™ Club.  He adds, “The nice thing about pickle ball is that it’s easy to learn, fun for all ages and requires no athletic ability.”  It also provides an opportunity for residents from across the Village to come together and socialize in a fun setting.

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A dog life: Solace and service


Wookiee and Millie approach their work at Warm Hearth Village each Wednesday morning as eager professionals, eyes bright and tails wagging.

At the front door, Millie, a black Labrador, jumps up almost twice her height to hit the door opener button with her right paw. Wookiee, a very social Briard, rushes forward to begin schmoozing in the lobby. Millie stands alert, waiting for her handler’s command.

Tiffany Moeltner is training the two dogs for very different roles, but both are honing their skills while enhancing the lives of the residents of Warm Hearth’s Kroontje Center. When either dog trots into a room, faces that seemed permanently etched in frowns often relax into smiles.

Wookiee, the therapy dog, makes new friends on every visit. He accepts hugs and kisses of varying intensities with equanimity. If someone acknowledges Wookiee, he’s ready to return the love. Today he sits eye-level with J.B. Jones while the retired professor reminisces about dogs he has trained. Jones’ goal is to improve his strength and balance enough to take Wookiee for a walk.

“Wookiee was a rescue from the Humane Society. When I saw how much he loves people and how gentle he is, I knew I had to train him as a therapy dog,” Moeltner said.

Millie is a Saint Francis service dog in training. Moeltner is teaching her to be “all business” around people as well as to perform tasks. One of the important things Millie is learning at Warm Hearth is not to respond to people other than her owner.

This is important; a dog that loses focus misses cues from his owner. Service dogs trained to detect seizures or low blood sugar must concentrate on their human’s condition second by second. Missed signals could have dire consequences.

At Warm Hearth, Millie doesn’t have a designated patient. She opens doors, fetches objects and drags large baskets or boxes out of the main thoroughfare, and responds to 40 spoken commands.

She also helps with physical therapy sessions, retrieving bean bags the patients throw and giving them extra motivation to exercise their arms. Millie also throws her weight into an arm-strengthening exercise with a tug rope, maintaining a steady, gentle tug for patients to counter.

Millie’s ability to wield a credit card is her most surprising skill. Rising up on two legs, Millie stands with her paws on the nursing station counter, credit card gripped between her teeth, smiling like a happy shopper. On Moeltner’s command, she lets the nurse remove the credit card and waits slack mouthed for its return. No, Millie can’t swipe her own card – yet.

“Millie and Wookiee enrich the environment here for residents and staff,” said Kroontje Activities Director Johnathan Tate, who collaborated with Moeltner in bringing the dogs to campus. “Because of them, we’re in the process of bringing a resident service dog to Kroontje.”

“In the 11 or so months we’ve been coming to Warm Hearth, the dogs and I have reached many milestones,” Moeltner said. “We benefit from training around the variety of people and equipment. The staff is learning how to treat a working service dog. The residents benefit from being around the dogs. One woman in the memory unit who was always silent actually spoke to Wookiee. ”

Citing studies published in “Frontiers in Psychology” journal, Moeltner claims being in the company of a dog can lower people’s stress hormones, heart rate, blood pressure and anxiety level as well as improve their motivation to participate in activities. When Millie enters the therapy room, patients smile and press into their activities with new vigor.

Millie wants to be a good dog, but she can’t resist the toes sticking out of a patient’s leg cast. She darts out her tongue for a few quick licks as she trots by, and the recipient erupts into giggles.

“Millie’s a fun dog,” Moeltner said. “That’s why she’s going to take longer to train.”

Moeltner has earned credentials as a field trainer for Saint Francis and is a registered therapy dog handler through Pet Partners. She does this on a volunteer basis, as a labor of love, she said. In addition to Warm Hearth, she and her dogs visit LewisGale Montgomery Hospital regularly, usually in the waiting rooms.

Moeltner holds a master’s in special education from the University of Washington and has developed a school-based program, Individual Education Pups & Pets. This program, now based at Price’s Fork Elementary School, brings registered therapy animals into the schools to support students who are “at risk” or receiving special education services in achieving their academic and personal goals. Dogs are used to help students with physical skills and bring a relaxing presence to students struggling with reading. Children experiencing family crises may benefit from the sense of unconditional love and positive support offered by the mere presence of a therapy dog during a counseling session.

Moeltner consults with veterinarians at the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine and Virginia Tech’s Center for Animal Human Relationships — one of only 11 centers nationwide promoting research on the human-animal bond.

Moeltner has a mission to educate people about the proper training and roles of service and therapy animals. Service dogs are highly trained animals that provide assistance to an individual with a disability. They don’t socialize with other humans and should not be petted. Although therapy dogs also receive training, they are social dogs who interact with a variety of people while on duty.

Moeltner’s “pet peeve,” so to speak, is that no required central registry exists for trained service and therapy animals. By law, only service animals are allowed in certain places, such as restaurants and supermarkets. But unlike the people who use disabled parking placards, those with service animals don’t have to register anywhere; the Americans with Disabilities Act protects their privacy. So, although businesses can ask whether a dog is acting as a service animal, owners don’t have to prove that it is.

“People are passing off improperly trained animals as service animals,” Moeltner said. “When a disabled person is sold one of these animals or when an untrained dog interferes with his service animal, it makes life so much harder for someone whose life is already very difficult.”

Saint Francis Service Dogs provides thorough training for service dogs and offers them free to disabled people who need them. Moeltner also leads advanced training for therapy animals. She is always looking for new volunteers. For information about training therapy or service dogs, contact her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 808-2202.

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Fitness Center Employees Earn Certification


The Fitness Center at Warm Hearth Village now has two additional Certified Personal Trainers on staff. Kenny Harrah and Rachael Tylock recently passed The American College of Sports Medicine Personal Trainer certification exam. The certification took approximately six months to obtain and will enrich their portfolio of tools with which to help residents and members at the Blacksburg retirement community.

Heather Gearhart, Vice President for Health and Wellness congratulates the pair on their recent achievements and says, “Warm Hearth is privileged to have this dynamic fitness team working to improve the health and wellbeing of our employees and residents.”

The fitness center is open to anyone age 55 and older and you don’t have to be a resident of Warm Hearth to join. Memberships and daily passes are offered. Personal Training, group aquatic and land classes and a cardio/weight room are available on a daily basis. More information is available by calling the fitness center at 540-443-3474.

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Warm Hearth Village and Local Girl Scout Team Up for Gold Award


Taylen Gearhart, a Senior Girl Scout from Elliston, recently completed a research project with seniors in the New River Valley in of her pursuit of the Girl Scout Gold Award. The Gold Award is the highest award within Girl Scouting with only 5.4% of eligible Girl Scouts successfully achieving it. The Gold Award project must involve over 80 hours of volunteer time, coordination with others and result in a lasting benefit to the larger community.

Gearhart chose to volunteer her time at Warm Hearth Village, a retirement community in Blacksburg. In choosing her project, she was inspired by her great-grandmother’s struggle with dementia. After research into successful ways of relieving stress and sparking memories in persons with dementia, Gearhart found information about music and its influence on memory. She sought out help from the staff of The Kroontje Health Care Center at Blacksburg’s Warm Hearth Village for permission to implement a project with the memory impaired residents there. Jonathan Tate, Activity Director at the Kroontje Center, acted as Taylen’s project advisor and assisted with the assignment. Together, and with the help of donated funds, they provided the residents with IPods loaded with era and genre specific music that can be played in times of stress, in preparation for taxing moments (like bathing or personal care) or just to relax. The results have been impressive. Kristi Blake, Administrator of The Kroontje Center said, “ The residents and staff alike have benefitted from the time put into this incredible project. They have been able to connect to a part of their past that only music can take them to.” “The staff see the enjoyment on the faces of our residents, and it provides true joy to them as well. We are so grateful to Taylen for working with us on her Gold Award Project,” she adds.

Music, according to Gearhart’s research, has a beneficial effect on stress reduction in the form of heart rate, lowered blood pressure, and outward signs of stress such as agitation. Gearhart says, “It was so much fun working with the staff and helping the residents in some small way.”

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Intergenerational Experiences at Warm Hearth Village Benefit Seniors and Pre-Schoolers


Residents at Warm Hearth Village have been spending time with preschoolers from throughout the New River Valley thanks to two innovative intergenerational programs.   Foster Grandparents and Music Together bring children on campus weekly to engage with and learn from “the greatest generation” while also spreading a little joy of their own.

The Foster Grandparent program is funded by a $33,333 grant awarded to the Warm Hearth Foundation (12/28/15) by the LeadingAge Innovations Fund. The Innovations Fund is designed to catalyze innovation among LeadingAge members to develop programs that have the potential for demonstrable impact on residents, clients, families, employees, or the broader community, and have the potential for replication.  Designed to model good habits in exercise and nutrition for low-income seniors and adolescents, Fitness Director and Program Director Jocy Graham teamed up with Head Start in Blacksburg and Christiansburg to build a weekly program on the campus of the Blacksburg based retirement community.  Roughly 20 children travel to Warm Hearth every Wednesday and engage in activities such as music appreciation, arts and outdoor recreation at the Karr Activity Center.   A recreation space and meditation labyrinth were constructed as part of the program providing a beautiful outdoor environment to enrich the experience. “I see real connections being forged between two groups who yearn for interaction,”  says Graham. “I’m so proud to be a part of this program,” she adds.

Music Together of the New River Valley offers semester programs where children and seniors interact through music.   Program Director, Joanna Culigan recognizes that due to the transient nature of today’s society, many young children don’t have access to their grandparents and thus miss out on the chance to connect with and learn from them.  The rich musical environment gives residents and children opportunity for creativity as well as social interaction.  Residents at Showalter Center eagerly await the arrival of the energy-filled youngsters who affectionately refer to them as “grand friends”.

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