BoneBuildersofRI — One couple’s passionate commitment to their community

By Marguerite (Peg) Brown, PhD

BoneBuilders—all over the State of Rhode Island? Do you picture a room full of scientists reconstructing the skeleton of some ancient mammal? They are a group, but the skeletons they are busy building are their own.

Look no further than the Village of Waterman Lake for the origins and heartbeat of the program, BoneBuildersofRI, founded by Diane Caruso and her husband Richard, and completely funded through their personal financial support. Many in the health care community may remember Diane as she was a co-owner of 10 assisted living and health care facilities throughout Rhode Island. She is still a highly regarded expert in this field on the national level. In 2004, Diane sold her interest in nine of those facilities, but retained The Village at Waterman Lake as the flagship to continue to providing quality care through independent, assisted, and skilled nursing programs.

BoneBuildersofRI is described as a donation-based (suggested $2 a class), weight-bearing exercise program for men and women ages 50 and over, with core values focused on wellness, strength, balance, bone-health and social interaction. Begun with just two locations in Rhode Island in 2013, Barrington and Waterman Lake, the program is now offered at 17 sites around the state, offering 36 classes a week, to over 1,200 registered participants annually. The leader at Waterman Lake, Sue Bayley, has worked in numerous capacities for Diane at several locations including Vice President of Marketing and Communication before assuming her current position. Sue conducts her sessions on Tuesday and Thursday at Waterman Lake and oversees all recruitment and training for new leaders.

On a recent visit to Waterman Lake, I had the chance to sit down with Diane and her husband, to learn more about the origins of the program, its ever-expanding presence in Rhode Island, and what the future may hold. The origin and growth of the program was serendipitous at best.

In 1986 Diane had been in a serious car-accident in New Hampshire. As a former Pro-Am competitive ball room dancer, she had always focused on fitness and a healthy life style. However, little in her previous life could prepare her for the challenge of a long and painful road of months of rehabilitation. Her doctor had suggested that as part of her recovery, she might participate in an exercise program offered in her community of Plainville, NH. Diane participated, and as the demand grew in the village for more like programs, the instructor invited her to offer the program at a second location as a volunteer leader.

Not long after, Diane’s mother, who had osteoporosis, passed away at age 93. Diane herself was diagnosed with osteopenia and, cognizant of her mother’s struggle, sought a way to stall and perhaps reverse the progression of her condition. A doctor suggested medication, which Diane was reluctant to use, and followed her own Plan B– focusing on strength training, flexibility and balance.

The seeds for BoneBuildersofRI were planted. Turning to Waterman Lake, where exercise has always been a key component of the facility’s programs, Diane, together with Richard, a choreographer, designed a curriculum, trained and tested instructors and in 2013 launched those first two sites.

In 2015, as more communities contacted Diane to initiate the program, she hired John Dionne as full-time Director of Program Development to provide administrative oversight to the ongoing and expanding venues. One of Diane’s key strengths, according to her staff, is recognizing talent in unexpected places, and giving individuals a chance to excel. John, one of those individuals, was formerly a painter on staff at Waterman Lake. Together, he and Peter Demasi, former community representative, grew the program to its current 17 locations. Not only is John charged with oversight, but he explores new venues and recruits and prepares new leaders, who must successfully complete a rigorous training program, participate in ongoing professional development, and be evaluated at least annually.

The story of Diane and Richard’s commitment and passion for their communities is far from over. Together they have developed and implemented a curriculum, using BoneBuildersofRI as a model, for those suffering from Parkinson’s disease and other movement disorders. While the program incorporates many of the similar areas of focus as BoneBuildersofRI, including strength, flexibility, balance, and social interaction, the program innovatively uses music and dance, largely with a Latin soundtrack. In Diane’s own words, those who suffer from Parkinson’s are often good dancers. Dancing lets a Parkinson victim move to the music, and if a step is missed while our clients think of their next move, the steps are always repeated.” Diane revealed that one participant moves to music while in a wheelchair.

An unexpected outcome of the program is that many of the patients’ partners attend, participate, and have a chance to share their common experiences, receive emotional support, and benefit from the exercises.

The new program, piloted at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center and Dartmouth University, has been identified and through the efforts of a Dartmouth professor and class participant who secured a grant, will be quantitatively studied in the Spring. The grant will help to assess the impact of their curriculum, including formative and summative data. Diane adds, “I can’t wait for Thursdays. The joy that is experienced by these individuals with movement disorders is astounding. They learn to push their boundaries and have an opportunity to bond socially with others who share their struggle.”

On her recent visit to Waterman Lake, Diane shared some of these movement techniques with our class. I have no doubt we are seeing the birth of a national model for addressing movement disorders.

Bone Builders who participated in photo shoot for the Times: Jane Masso, Harmony; Vince and Ginny Borrelli, Johnston; Mariann Impagliazzo, Cranston; Jo-Ann Kassabian, Providence; Enis Pardi, Scituate; Linda Peck, Pascoag; Darlene Barber, Pawtucket; Alicia Connaughton, Cranston; Carole Gaulin, Greenville; Peg Brown, Smithfield; and Leader Sue Bayley.

BoneBuildersofRI – Passionately Sponsored by The Village at Waterman Lake. Consult the BoneBuildersofRI web site for a schedule of classes and a location near you.

Need a Nudge? Get Off the Couch!

According to the World Health Organization, leading a sedentary lifestyle is one of the 10 leading causes of death and disability.

There are approximately 40.3 million Americans over the age of 65. Only 5 percent of all adults engage in minimal physical activity.

The consequences of putting your feet up?

Circulatory System Problems
Weight Gain
Diabetes, Certain Cancers, Chronic Diseases
Joint and Bone Fragility (particularly in women)
Decrease in Cognitive Function
Lack of Endurance and Strength When You Need It
Loss of Balance, Flexibility and Mobility
Increased Risk of Death From any Cause

Doing three hours of exercise a week increases a person’s life span by around 5 years.

University of Southern California’s School of Gerontology