Couple chatting

Living well together

High school bus buddies and married couple of 52 years Jim and Joy Kempan became exercise partners and healthy tablemates through the Living Well with Chronic Conditions workshop.

Living well together

“My attitude went from, ‘Maybe tomorrow’ to ‘Let’s do it!” said member Jim Kempen of the Living Well with Chronic Conditions workshop he and his wife Joy recently participated in.

Jim and Joy Kempen said that before they received the invitation to the workshop, they didn’t think of themselves as having chronic conditions. “You just live with it; it just becomes an everyday thing,” said Jim of their combined struggles with diabetes, arthritis and weight management.

But the workshop is all about the “with,” said Health Educator Angie Pero, who co-led Jim and Joy’s class sessions with an Aging & Disabilities Resource Center (ADRC) instructor. “You have the chronic condition, and in some cases – like unhealthy weight – you might be able to change it, but we’re focused on helping you set goals that will help you live well even with the condition,” said Pero.

Workshop participants meet once a week for two-and-a-half-hour sessions over the course of six weeks. “It’s a commitment, and you have to be in the right mindset for it to be effective,” said Pero.

“But it went so fast!” said Joy. “It was fun!” she affirmed.

Workshop topics cover techniques for coping with pain, getting good nutrition and exercise, managing stress and developing food label literacy, mindfulness and strong communication skills.

“You learn how to give help and how to ask for help,” said Jim, “which can be tough when you’re used to being independent.”

“It’s amazing how often people feel like they’re a burden,” said Pero. “They don’t realize how willing and happy others are to help.”

Workshop participants supported one another to meet their weekly goals: “We’d report on our progress toward our goals and talk about challenges. Then everyone would try to brainstorm about ways to overcome hurdles and share useful tips. They had so many good ideas. We shared some of the same problems. We’re just in different seats on the same boat! It was so good to realize you’re not alone,” said Joy.

Jim and Joy had some extra accountability in one another: The high school bus buddies and married couple of 52 years became exercise partners and healthy table mates through the Living Well with Chronic Conditions workshop: They learned to monitor their salt and sugar intake by reading labels correctly and became more active together by biking, walking and golfing.

“We do our workouts together now. We take turns on our basement weights and treadmill and keep one another accountable for staying active,” said Joy. 

And as the couple made positive changes affecting one chronic condition, they noticed it helped their other conditions, too. “It’s all interconnected!” said Jim. “Moving for weight loss helped my arthritis.”

When asked what made the couple want to participate in the workshop, “Look at us!” was all Joy Kempen exclaimed.

“It’s obvious to most of us when we need to change our unhealthy habits. We just have to want to do it, commit to it and then learn how to get there,” said Pero. “And the Kempens did. They were the best partners, holding one another accountable, engaging with the workshop materials, encouraging one another. Their camaraderie was special. But other participants find support in their fellow workshop participants, too.”

“We are still working on meeting our workshop goals,” said Joy, “but now we’re confident we can meet them. Instead of thinking, ‘Poor me,’ I think, ‘I can do it.’”

And the couple left with a souvenir: Jim was sure to get Angie’s signature on their workshop book after that final class. 

“Live well!” Angie’s final message still encourages them.

Ready to live well? To learn more about Living Well with Chronic Conditions workshops or register, visit or contact your local Aging & Disability Resource Center.