Lifelong Learning Opens Doors

Some classes, like Arizona history, strike close to home. Others, like astronomy, stretch to the far reaches of space. For the curious-minded at Beatitudes Campus, a CHHSM member ministry in Phoenix, there are no limits to learning.

The Beatitudes Center for Lifelong Learners offers courses in the arts, sciences and history for residents of the life plan community. Residents on the community’s Lifelong Learners Committee serve as the driving force behind the intellectual effort, says the Rev. David Ragan, senior vice president of resident services.

“The committee has some of the most brilliant members of our campus, who are dedicated to education and wanting to inspire each other,” he says.

Among them is Committee Chair Mim Hoover, who has seen the program grow from humble beginnings.

“When we started out, there were between 50 and 70 residents who participated. The first semester offered three classes,” Hoover says.

Times have changed.

“Right now, enrollment is close to 200 residents out of more than 500,” she says. “We have roughly one in three independent living residents who are taking at least one class, and some of the residents take up to 10 classes a semester.”

Woman in front of computer at Beatitudes campus.

Beatitudes resident Dosia Carlson enjoys working on the Lifelong Learners Committee and watching the program gain popularity.

The growth in enrollment coincides with mounting evidence to support the spiritual, emotional and physical benefits of lifelong learning in older adults.

“I think we provide stimulus for the rest of the residents and that brings us joy,” Hoover says.

Lifelong learning also flourishes at Pilgrim Place in Claremont, California, flowing naturally from the mission of the CHHSM community.

“We have several organizations that teach lifelong learning in different areas,” says Jennifer Tomes, the community’s director of marketing and communications. “That tends to be one of the draws that Pilgrim Place has for its residents — that they can continue lifelong learning in any manner they choose, whether it’s through social work or learning something in a new faith, new religion, etc.”

Residents stay up to date on educational offerings via weekly announcements. Speeches, workshops and screenings are open to the public at large.

Another component of lifelong learning at Pilgrim Place stems from the larger local scene. Residents are eligible to audit classes at The Claremont Colleges, and a number of residents teach there, Tomes says.

Like Pilgrim Place, Beatitudes draws on resources within its own walls and beyond to supply academic expertise.

“We work with one of our community colleges, Paradise Valley, and they have been able to provide several instructors for us,” says resident Dosia Carlson, secretary of the Center for Lifelong Learners Committee. “One from the English department will be teaching a course on Homer’s the ‘Iliad’ and the ‘Odyssey’ this coming term.”

The committee relies heavily on resident feedback to tailor course catalogs — a job Carlson takes seriously.

“I like to think I’m a lifelong learner, with or without the classes,” she says. “And perhaps what I most enjoy is the excitement of seeing the program unfold and working with the committee. It’s very satisfying to see real accomplishment from a resident-run organization.”

Beatitudes residents who teach courses draw on their lives for class material, such as interesting facts collected from travel to China and tales from the storied legal career of a resident who argued cases before the U.S. Supreme Court.

“That’s one of the great things — there are residents using their gifts and talents,” Ragan says. “There’s always learning to be done. It’s really a lifesaver for some residents.”

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