PONCHATOULA — Residents from throughout the area, especially the elderly, now have a special place to get fit and stay that way at the Ponchatoula Wellness Plaza, which was officially opened in dedication ceremonies recently.
The plaza, located in the northwest corner of the city’s Kiwanis Park, offers seniors and the not-so-senior crowd free access to outdoor exercise and fitness opportunities that ordinarily would be found inside commercial exercise centers.
The Wellness Plaza connects with the park’s existing half-mile walking path to form a complete exercise venue for adults wishing to engage in therapeutic fitness and balance exercise.
Kim Zabbia, wife of Ponchatoula Mayor Robert Zabbia, and Rhonda Sheridan, a city employee, spearheaded planning, financing and construction of the plaza.
Kim Zabbia said the idea for such a facility came when a friend told her about a similar center while traveling through Europe. She began researching the possibilities of bringing a wellness plaza to her city and learned that Xcent Fitness, a specialty company, had plans and equipment for the plaza envisioned by the Ponchatoula planners.
She said the mayor emphasized that construction of the Wellness Plaza had to be a partnership between the city and residents who were willing to raise the funds necessary for construction.
“In just five short months from the original idea, the Wellness Plaza is a reality,” Kim Zabbia said. “We raised $65,000 from individuals, businesses and civic organizations, and that was sufficient to built what we envisioned.
“The people of Ponchatoula were very receptive to what we wanted to do, and they were overwhelmingly generous. When we asked for the funds for the Wellness Plaza, almost everyone said yes.”
The centerpiece of the plaza, a jungle gym of sorts, includes 18 lower- and upper-body exercises to encourage adults to keep moving. The gym includes a balance beam, stair walk, rope bridge and rope course, and equipment that emphasizes strengthening the upper body. The exercise system sits in the center of a large, circular concrete pad that is covered by a rubber surface.
A gazebo, along with landscaping, enhances the plaza area. Temperature-neutral benches surround the exercise equipment, giving seniors a spot to take five. Bright lights surround the plaza, allowing for use at all hours. Cameras mounted on the light stands will be used for security and to keep a head count of visitors.
Among the many partners that donated funds and services to build the plaza are local hospitals and health service groups. Kim Zabbia said health professionals are enthusiastic about the wellness plaza because it encourages adults to get out and exercise.
“At about age 50, most people start having trouble with the balance, so this exercise program will be of major benefit to them,” she said. “The jungle gym will help adults improve their balance, thus building confidence, which in turn will prevent falls and hospital stays and assist them in performing everyday life activities.”
Sheridan said people who have had heart surgery or joint replacement and who wish to continue their own rehabilitation would find the motion wellness system beneficial.
Kim Zabbia said the new facility is only the beginning of plans to make the entire park part of the wellness movement. She and others already are planning for what they have designated as Phase II of the project.
She explained that in Phase II, four “Boomer Stops” will be added along the walking path. Each stop will feature a different set of exercise equipment that requires advanced physical skills. The higher-impact exercise equipment will include such things as pull-up bars, striders and resistance bars for building arm strength.
A third phase envisions placing a second Wellness Plaza at Ponchatoula’s Community Center, but Zabbia said “that is way down the road.”
“This is a great day in the city of Ponchatoula. During my 12 years as mayor, I have never had the privilege of forming a partnership with so many good and generous citizens before,” Zabbia told a large crowd attending the Dec. 18 plaza dedication. “This is the only facility of its kind in this area and perhaps in the whole state, and I am proud that it is in Ponchatoula.
“The entire project, from its inception to its completion, was accomplished flawlessly, and I’m proud of that. I’m going to use it, and I want you to use it.”
“We are very proud of our Wellness Plaza. … It’s a special place, and we invite everyone to come use this great new facility,” Kim Zabbia said. “Kiwanis Park was already a nice place to visit with the beautiful oaks, the walking trail, a large playground for the children and the ball field.
“Now, we have the Wellness Plaza that completes a park where people of all ages can come to enjoy being outdoors while experiencing the sense of accomplishment that comes with working towards being more healthy and physically fit.”