valley dispatch / Amaris Castillo
Dottie Cheney, 84, of Dracut, works out during the Bone Builders class she helps lead as a volunteer instructor along with Claudette Bernier, 70, of Nashua, N.H, and Mary Horne, 65, of Dracut.
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The three instructors greet their students as they amble into the large room with a checkered floor. Together, they make sure the chairs are arranged just so, and that each student wears her name tag.

It is Tuesday at the Council on Aging and the 12:30 Bone Builders class is about to begin.

The instructors — Mary Horne, 65, and Dottie Cheney, 84, both of Dracut, and Claudette Bernier, 70, of Nashua, N.H. — volunteer to teach the strength-training and balance-exercise program. It has been three years since they teamed up to lead the class.

Bone Builders is designed to combat osteoporosis, a bone disease that occurs when the body loses too much bone, makes too little bone, or both, according to the National Osteoporosis Foundation.

The instructors’ volunteer gig at the Dracut Senior Center was unintentional, at least in the beginning. Horne, Cheney and Bernier say they wanted to take the class as students for the many health benefits, but there was a long waiting list due to the program’s popularity. Cheney says she had been waiting for a year to get in.

“They called and said, ‘Would you like to lead the class? There’s a training starting up,'” Horne recalls. “And so I said, ‘Sure. If it means I get to take the class.’ I enjoy it. We always laugh.”

Dracut COA Director Bethany Loveless says Bone Builders has become so well-known that some doctors recommend it.

“It is run out of Community Teamwork in Lowell,” Loveless says. “They’re the ones who train the instructors, and it’s at a number of senior centers. It is so popular here that we now have four different groups of Bone Builders. Each group meets twice a week, so that’s eight sessions all together of just Bone Builders.”

It’s now 12:32, and several students are sitting on chairs that form an oval in the room. Most have their 2-pound dumbbells beside them.

“OK, now let’s start,” Horne announces to the small group. “Get up behind your chair.”

The women follow. Soon, each instructor and student is holding onto her chair with her right hand for support. They move their left legs in slow circles, counter-clockwise.

“1, 2, 3, 4,” they count in unison.

“And right leg,” Horne says.

They turn around.

“1, 2, 3, 4,” they count again.

“And clockwise hulas,” Horne says.

Now standing behind their chairs, the women move their hips.

Cheney and Bernier later take over the class to focus on different exercises. In all, they hope to improve bone and muscle strength and balance not only for themselves but for their students.

Horne says she likes the abdominal exercises.

Cheney likes the weights. “I have a bad back, so I’m trying to use my arms and my legs,” she says.

Bernier likes working on her legs and says Bone Builders has helped strengthen them.

“I always was afraid to go up and down stairs, so it’s amazing,” she says.

The program wraps up an hour after it started, with stretches.

Betty Anne Richardson, 79, says she feels better now.

“I feel like I’m a little bit more flexible,” she says. “I have a tendency to get all stiffened up, and it takes me a little bit to get going, to talk. This kind of makes it a little easier, for a while anyway.”

Richardson says she has been coming to this Bone Builders class since it began nearly four years ago.

“They’re excellent,” she says of the instructors.

Virginia Laferriere, another student, says she likes the class because she gets her exercise in. The 72-year-old Lowell resident gets to stretch her right leg.

“My leg is really bad. I have no feeling in that leg, so I don’t want to use what little I have,” Laferriere says. “I want to strengthen what I have left.”

Follow Amaris Castillo on Twitter @AmarisCastillo. Her email address is acastillo@lowellsun.com.