“It has surprised me how natural it was to become a volunteer,” shares Jing Cao, volunteer instructor for Gilda’s Club’s Tai Chi classes.

Jing initially became involved with Gilda’s Club in a different volunteer capacity, as an intern. She interned while a second year PhD student in the UW Madison Rehabilitation Counselor Education Program.

Her journey with Gilda’s began during the pandemic, which led to its own challenges, but also an opportunity. “At the time, virtual programs had just started, so I had the flexibility to create something,” she remembers. Members has requested Tai Chi classes, and the classes aligned with her own skills and interests.

“A group of very genuine people”

When her internship ended, she decided to continue leading the classes. “During the pandemic, it’s precious to have human connection,” she explains. She grins as she talks about the class attendees. “They’re a group of very genuine people. It’s an opportunity for me to feel connected.”

Although Jing became connected to Gilda’s Club due to her field of study, her skills in Tai Chi predate her formal education. Her mom was an avid practitioner of Baduanjin, a classic version of Tai Chi. Her mom shared with her that this version of Tai Chi was specifically for health promotion, unlike other branches of Tai Chi which are rooted in martial arts. In addition, it’s great for beginners and has a rehabilitative purpose. Multiple studies have shown its health benefits, from depression and anxiety management to knee osteoarthritis rehabilitation. Jing thought that this would be the ideal form to practice with Gilda’s Club members.

Since starting the class, Jing has heard several members share the positive effects they’ve noticed since starting the practice. “For example, one member once talked about reduced back pain after she joined the group. Another member spoke about the feeling of more strength in the legs and feet. Most members agree that TaiChi helps them start the day with more energy,” Jing shares.

Finding appreciation in life

Her class attendees became tightknit and have greatly valued their weekly sessions. Jing recalls one woman who attended classes every week for several months. One week, when she appeared on the Zoom screen, it was from her hospital bed. Jing shared that she even though she couldn’t perform the movements, she still wanted to be present with the group.

It was in that moment that it clicked for Jing, “We are not just a group, we are a bunch of people looking for connection.”

When that member sadly passed away shortly thereafter, it led to another realization for Jing. “I think about a lot of the valuable things in life. That moment makes me appreciate what I have in life, and it makes me appreciate the group.”

Tai Chi currently meets at Gilda’s Club three times per week – visit our program calendar to find the latest offerings. We are so thankful for Jing’s volunteerism in leading these classes throughout the pandemic.

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