58°F
weather icon Clear

Las Vegas fitness instructor honored for work with seniors, kids

Updated July 23, 2019 - 9:16 am

It looks like any other fitness class, with all the huffing, puffing, stretching, grunting and repetitive movement you’d expect.

What makes this class different is Anita Stephens, its enthusiastic leader, offering her mostly age-65-plus students a constant stream of encouragement (“Nice job!”), exhortations (“You got one more in you? Of course you do. You’re strong!”) and eagle-eyed individual attention (“Some of you are not breathing. I can see it in your faces. You’ve got to breathe in!”).

It’s an exercise class with heart, thanks to the familial vibe Stephens creates. That ability, along with Stephens’ attention to her routines and her willingness to take an individual tack even in a group setting, helps to explain why Stephens recently was named a national finalist for the SilverSneakers Instructor of the Year award.

In honoring her, SilverSneakers — a nationwide health and fitness program for adults 65 and older — also cited Stephens’ community service in having served as foster parent to 43 children over the course of a decade.

“She is a special individual,” says Brianna Barber, Durango Hills YMCA executive director. “I think one big difference in somebody such as Anita is, she has this level of compassion you don’t always see with (group instructors).”

Stephens will give presents to students and stay after class to answer questions, Barber says. “She cares. She’s got a huge heart.”

Going the extra mile

Leigh Acosta, Durango Hills YMCA health and wellness director, adds that “what sets her apart is she’s continually researching, constantly doing more and more outside of the class to see what she can do with our members.”

For Stephens, caring for foster kids and helping senior citizens remain active and healthy are just two sides of the same coin.

As a foster parent, “at the end of the day, it was me being a voice” for children, she says. For seniors, it’s serving “not necessarily as a voice per se for them, but somebody they can talk to. I hope they know I’m a friend, and I know some of them look at me that way, as somebody they can trust.”

Stephens, 51, was born and raised in Las Vegas. “From a very young age, I always loved dance,” she says. She was on Eldorado High School’s dance team, was a song leader, and danced and sang in a group called “Sounds of the Sun.”

Stephens and her husband, Wesley, knew each other growing up, and married after reconnecting two years after graduation. Eventually, they began a family, and that “changed our priorities,” she says. “That’s when we became foster parents.”

A decade of fostering

It began with a friend’s suggestion that Stephens might want to look into fostering. After 10 years of fostering children, the couple adopted two of their fosters , who joined their own four children in creating what one of Stephens’ sons called “organized chaos. We just learned how to manage it all.”

Then Stephens’ interests led her in a new, but not wholly unrelated, direction.

“For about 20 years I raised children and took care of them and worked in the foster care community here,” Stephens says. “That started to shift about four years ago. I decided to do something for myself after taking care of everybody else. I decided I wanted to get back into fitness and dance.”

She also thought she’d like to work with seniors. Because of her father-in-law’s challenges with early-stage Alzheimer’s disease, she was comfortable working with seniors facing medical challenges such as heart disease, stroke or dementia.

“So I started to work toward my personal training certification and my senior fitness certificate. I love to learn, so I loved taking the classes and learning . It just kind of evolved into seeing how I can help that (senior) population. I just feel it’s your job as a member of society to pay it forward.”

In her SilverSneakers classes, Stephens offers students cardiovascular, strength, flexibility and balance activities aimed at promoting general fitness. She also works with students who are facing individual health challenges, teaching them activities and exercises that might help them, say, recover from a stroke, cardiac event or joint replacement surgery.

“We have people in wheelchairs who do (exercises) just from their wheelchair,” Stephens says. “We work with it all.”

Small goals still important

Sometimes, students simply want to accomplish individual health goals to improve their daily lives. One student recently told Stephens that, for the first time, she was able to navigate an airport without using a wheelchair.

“So whatever their goal is, whether it’s walking across the airport or being able to play with their grandchildren, or they want to be able to play pickleball, whatever it is, we can help them achieve those things.”

Too often, society’s attitude toward seniors is “pushing them to the side: OK, you’re old, you’re retired and we don’t need to worry about you anymore,” Stephens says. “But we do, and we want to be able to help people in those golden years. They’re not very golden if we can’t even get off of the couch. So we focus on what we call activities of daily living.”

Stephens’ classes also offer an important sense of community. A recent class ended with birthday wishes for one member, along with hugs and goodbyes.

“It’s about creating this kind of family,” Stephens says. “When these people come together, they really do become family.”

Contact John Przybys at jprzybys@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0280. Follow @JJPrzybys on Twitter.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
Entertainment Videos
Sourdough Cafe at Arizona Charlie’s in Las Vegas makes horseradish potato chips
Sean Gassaway, room chef at the Sourdough Cafe at Arizona Charlie’s Decatur in Las Vegas, makes horseradish potato chips by heating prepared horseradish to remove some of the moisture, mixing it with kosher salt and further dehydrating it, tossing it with house-made chips and serving it as a monthly special with a bratwurst on a roll, sauerkraut, spicy mustard and a cup of cheese dip. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Central Perk coffee shop opens for business
As part of Saturday’s “Friends” Fan Experience at New York-New York hotel-casino, the artist Nathan Sawaya debuts his life-size, 700-square-foot re-creation of the show’s Central Perk coffee shop that’s constructed entirely out of Lego bricks. (Erik Verduzco/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Binion's debuts a spinning bar overlooking Fremont Street Experience
Binion's debuted its spinning bar inside the Whiskey Licker Up Saloon. The Rotating bar only goes at one full rotation per 15 minutes overlooking the Fremont Street Experience. (James Schaeffer/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Green Eggs and Ham at Carson Kitchen in Las Vegas
Scott Simon, executive chef at Carson Kitchen in Las Vegas, makes a Green Eggs and Ham Flatbread with pistou, smoked mozzarella, tasso ham and eggs. Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal
Lemon Semifreddo Dessert at Vetri Cucina in Las Vegas
Ashley Costa, pastry chef at Vetri Cucina at the Palms in Las Vegas, freezes lemon curd with whipped cream, sandwiches it between polenta-based crumiri cookies, sprinkles it with powdered sugar and drizzles it with argrumato, a lemon olive oil. Heidi Knapp Rinella/Review-Journal
Hard Rock Memorabilia Exhibition
The 2,600-square-foot exhibit, which is open 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Thursdays to Mondays through Jan. 31, spans eras and genres alike. There are numerous rare and never-before-seen items here, featuring artists from ZZ Top to Nine Inch Nails, Bo Diddley to Britney Spears. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Museum of Selfies coming to Las Vegas - VIDEO
The interactive attraction offers several new selfie opportunities. (Museum of Selfies)
Show of Strength in 'A Choreographers Showcase' - VIDEO
"A Choreographers Showcase" pairs artists from Nevada Ballet Theater and staff from all facets of Cirque du Soleil to design an annual show. (Elizabeth Page Brumleyy/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
David Chang talks about what to expect at his new restaurant, Majordomo Meat & Fish - VIDEO
David Chang tells fans what to expect at his new restaurant, Majordomo Meat & Fish, at The Venetian on the Las Vegas Strip. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Pink Lady and Rosey Mary cocktails at Therapy in Las Vegas
Terence Beach, bartender at Therapy restaurant in Las Vegas, makes original pink cocktails to benefit breast cancer research. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Torrijas dessert served at Sugarcane Raw Bar Grill in Las Vegas
Chef Christian Lee of Sugarcane at The Venetian in Las Vegas makes a dessert of torrijas, a Latin French toast, serving it with a caramelized-apple sauce and cinnamon ice cream. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
David Chang to sell Tasty Patties at Palazzo in Las Vegas - VIDEO
Chef David Chang has announced a casual concept that will accompany his new Majordomo Meat & Fish at Palazzo on the Las Vegas Strip. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Latkes, tzimmes at Market Place Buffet in Las Vegas for Rosh Hashanah
Ryan Swanson, Market Place Buffet room chef at the JW Marriott/Rampart Casino in Las Vegas, makes potato dishes as part of the resort’s Rosh Hashanah buffet. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
How Elphaba In "Wicked" turns green - VIDEO
Mariand Torres gets "painted" by makeup supervisor Joyce McGilberry for her role as Elphaba in "Wicked" at The Smith Center. (Janna Karel/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
The Hangover is served at The Crack Shack in Las Vegas - VIDEO
Khine Moore, executive chef at The Crack Shack at Park MGM in Las Vegas, makes The Hangover with a fried chicken breast or thigh dipped in honey-butter, sprinkled with Crack Seasoning and topped with an egg. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Dessert Before Dinner winner Becky Quan
Nine of Las Vegas’ top women pastry chefs offered original creations built around Girl Scouts Trefoils shortbread cookies Saturday night at Girl Scouts of Southern Nevada’s annual Desserts Before Dinner Gala. The top dessert, as voted on by the audience, was an homage to Good Humor’s old-fashioned Strawberry Shortcake ice cream bars created by NoMad’s Becky Quan. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Chef Sammy D is cooking again in Las Vegas
Sam DeMarco served his first public meal since returning to Las Vegas on Sunday, with a pop-up brunch at 7th & Carson. And the veteran of the First Food & Bar, Rattlecan and Sam’s American has more in store for the downtown spot. The chef, known as Sammy D. to his friends, is taking on a consulting chef role with restaurant that will see some of Sunday’s offerings added to the regular menu. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Carl’s Donuts in Las Vegas celebrates National Cream-Filled Doughnut Day
Carl’s Donuts, a Las Vegas-based company that’s been serving the city since 1966, celebrates National Cream-Filled Doughnut Day with specialties themed to fall. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Rick Harrison of "Pawn Stars" has a new store - VIDEO
Rick Harrison, the Pawn Stars co-star and owner of Gold & Silver Pawn, talks to the Review-Journal’s John Katsilometes about his soon-to-open Rick’s Collection retail outlet of mostly mid-century masterworks at the Grand Canal Shoppes at The Venetian. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Pok Pok Wing at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas serves Pad Thai Thamadaa - VIDEO
Because of popular request, the 1-year-old Pok Pok Wing at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas serves Pad Thai Thamadaa, with shrimp, ground pork, neither or both. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Trial by Fire cocktail at the Golden Tiki in Las Vegas - VIDEO
Adam Rains, head bartender (also Grand Poobah and a few other things) at The Golden Tiki in Las Vegas, makes one of the bar’s tiki drinks, (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Gordon Ramsay renovating Las Vegas steakhouse - VIDEO
Celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay is preparing to re-launch his Paris Las Vegas restaurant, Gordon Ramsay Steak. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Cats owners compete for top show awards
The annual Jazzy Cats event is taking place at the Rio Convention Center this weekend attracting cats owners from around the country and the world to compete for the top show awards. (Erik Verduzco/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Brooklyn Bowl in Las Vegas serves blackened Cajun catfish - VIDEO
Troy Remer, sous chef at Brooklyn Bowl at The Linq Promenade in Las Vegas, blackens Cajun catfish on the grill before serving it with mashed potatoes and collard greens. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
The Gold Encrusted Filet Mignon at Mr. Chow - VIDEO
This just may be the gold standard for the filet mignon. Mr. Chow at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas has introduced The Gold Encrusted Filet Mignon, which is coated with real 24-karat gold. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Working as a mermaid in Las Vegas - VIDEO
McKenzie Kawano works as a mermaid at the aquarium at the Silverton in Las Vegas. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Pinkbox Doughnuts opens third store in Las Vegas area
Las Vegas-based Pinkbox Doughnuts, which opened its third store at 9435 W. Tropicana Ave., specializes in doughnuts such as the new Station Wagon, with Butterfinger; pink-velvet Pretty in Pink; and hybrid Glazed DoughCro Bites. Heidi Knapp Rinella/Review-Journal, with image courtesy of Pinkbox Doughnuts
Starbucks brings back Pumpkin Spice early
Starbucks declares Aug. 27 the first day of fall as they make their pumpkin spice items available a full month early. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Bachelor Party Fra Diavolo at Carmine’s in Las Vegas
Roberto Leon, a line cook at Carmine’s at The Forum Shops at Caesars in Las Vegas, makes Bachelor Party Fra Diavolo with eight pounds of lobster, a pound each of mussels, clams and shrimp, two pounds of pasta and two gallons of sauce. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
'American Idol' auditions in Las Vegas
“American Idol” was in Las Vegas Monday looking for singers to compete in its upcoming 2020 season. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
THE LATEST
Mother receives cancer diagnosis after giving birth

Three months after giving birth, Elaine Arcenas discovered a lump in her breast while doing a self-exam. The diagnosis was cancer. She finished most of her cancer treatments by the time of her daughter’s first birthday, and today Arcenas is a healthy 12-year survivor.

Genetic testing can catch cancer early

When her doctor realized that Susan Wincn had several family members reaching back generations who had been diagnosed with cancer or succumbed early in life, she recommended a new genetic panel that tests for 84 cancer genes. The tests came back showing that Wincn has the ATM gene, which leaves her at a higher risk for breast, prostate, colon and pancreatic cancers.

 
Summerlin-area land sold to health care company for $19M

Intermountain Healthcare, a nonprofit system with more than 20 hospitals, spent almost $19 million to purchase roughly 7.7 acres at the southeast corner of Rampart Boulevard and Alta Drive, near Summerlin.