September 27, 2017
Share this story:

It’s not an exaggeration, by any stretch, when Dr. Ryan Harrison talks about some of the cutting-edge health and fitness programs offered at Hillcrest, the remarkable retirement community located in La Verne.

LA VERNE, California, September 27, 2017 — If you think residents at Hillcrest retired there just to enjoy unlimited bingo, Bible study and bridge (otherwise known as the three Bs of retirement), you have another thing coming.


At Hillcrest, the “B” at also stands for bridge-building, where Hillcrest leverages its unique assets and resources with those of the community to offer a truly engaging health and wellness experience for all.


That’s why Hillcrest isn’t just another retirement center, it has deservedly earned a reputation as “a remarkable retirement community.”


As evidence, while most retirement centers employ an activities director to entertain its residents, Hillcrest hired Dr. Ryan Harrison, who as director of Resident Life and Wellness, has created a seven-part, research-vetted model that optimizes health and wellness for older adults.


“Our goal is for Hillcrest to be a place that inspires and promotes well-being in such a way that just by living here, you become healthier and happier,” Harrison said.


Hillcrest has become that “place” because of people like Harrison. After growing up in La Verne and graduating from the University of La Verne, he received his master’s degree in psychology from Naropa, a liberal arts, Buddhist-inspired university in Boulder, Colo., and his doctorate in health and wellness psychology from the University of the Rockies.


Returning home as an adjunct professor at the University of La Verne teaching classes in nutrition, music, and world religions, including spiritual cinema, he knew he wanted to connect with not only his students, but also older Americans. After discussions with Hillcrest CEO Matthew Neeley, he found an ally in someone who wanted to build a health and wellness model with life enrichment and recreation opportunities that went far beyond typical retirement community fare — something truly remarkable.


As a result, Neeley brought Harrison on board, and, well, Hillcrest has never been quite the same.


His selection made perfect sense. For one, at least a quarter of Hillcrest’s current residents are University of La Verne alumni, so there’s a deep appreciation on the Hillcrest campus for lifelong learning and enrichment nourished by both Hillcrest’s resources as well as those from the community.


Contagious Learning


“I don’t want Hillcrest to be this little city without walls that keeps to itself,” Harrison said.


And with Harrison having one foot in the University world and the other in the retirement realm, he was indeed the ideal choice for this dynamic, interactive position. He is building bridges and partnerships that flow both ways, enriching life and wellness for those at both institutions, as well as the broader community.


Over the next weeks and months LaVerneOnline will delve into many of these exciting new partnerships and initiatives that Harrison and Hillcrest have launched. Here are just three of the programs underway:




Hillcrest is the only retirement community in the world offering a fitness class based on the DoubleFlex, a new exercise device that was developed for use by NASA astronauts. It weighs as little as two pounds but offers as much as 15 pounds of resistance (25 pounds in the newest models), making it ideal for use by older adults. In a collaborative effort, Hillcrest and the University of La Verne, led by Dr. Brian Clocksin, chair of the Kinesiology Department, conducted a research project and submitted their findings and conclusions to the Journal of Exercise Science. Hillcrest also produced an accompanying handbook for the DoubleFlex. In addition, as part of Hillcrest’s continuing outreach mission, it offers a free introductory DoubleFlex course to the community. As a result of all this extraordinary partnership, Hiillcrest is now in the process of becoming an official certification site for the DoubleFlex.


Oral Histories and Culture Change


University of La Verne students are paired with Hillcrest’s Woods Health Services residents, where students learn and record the unique biographical data, histories and stories of the skilled nursing residents. This is an amazing intergenerational and intercultural exchange reaping untold benefits for everyone involved. Dr. Jennifer Tsui will spearhead the oral history piece of this project.


Dementia Connections


In this program, graduate-level students, directed by Dr. Kelly Niles-Yokum of the University of La Verne’s Gerontology Department, are interacting with Hillcrest residents living with dementia. It’s a buddy system that helps reduce the stigma of dementia and lessen the feelings of boredom, isolation, loneliness and helplessness often associated with the condition.


Hillcrest and Harrison are figuratively and literally rewriting the book on what it means to serve the adult population in a thriving community like La Verne. They are engaging its older adults with the outside community and in turn bringing the outside community to Hillcrest.


Hillcrest offers robust volunteer and intern opportunities, with volunteers as young as age 14 serving in a vital capacity and making a difference. Interns hail from as far away as Brigham Young University in Utah and as close as Bonita High school, with participants realizing an opportunity for personal growth and increased self-esteem and the chance to give back, gain new skills, network, and make a meaningful difference in the lives of others.


Decisive Data


An aging baby boom population will provide countless job opportunities for students, according to Harrison. It will also give them the opportunity to reverse some disturbing trends. For example, about 80 percent of older adults have a least one chronic health condition and 60 percent to 65 percent have two or more.


“But research shows that older adults can turn this around and enjoy great bodily health through proper exercise and optimal nutrition,” Harrison noted.


That’s what’s been motivating Hillcrest and Harrison, which is why they extend so many of its wellness classes to the public. For example, members of the community can join Hillcrest’s Aquatic and Fitness Center (AFC) for $110, which includes a one-time initiation fee of $75. Thereafter the fee is $35 a month, which entitles members access to Hillcrest’s pool, weight center, wellness library and more than 40 weekly fitness offerings.


“I love being here,” Harrison said. “It’s a special place. “The culture at Hillcrest is different from anywhere else, and far different than any experience I’ve had in the for-profit sector.”


Hillcrest radiates wellness. It’s not just because of the bingo, Bible study and bridge, which Hillcrest certainly offers. It’s because of that other “B.” Hillcrest residents are “Busy” living, enjoying their experiences and sharing them with the community.


Look for our next feature on how the DoubleFlex came to Hillcrest! For more information about Hillcrest, visit or call  (909) 392-4375.


Hey, there’s a new pharmacy in town, 986 Pharmacy. They are friendly, fast and delivery is free. Located at 2143 Foothill Blvd. in La Verne.

Ask for Lilia or Jason or call 909.596.6168.



Leave a Reply