April is National Volunteer Recognition Month

Taking From – and Giving to -- Encore Learning

By Jody Goulden

What do you do when you retire?  You join Encore Learning (EL)! You attend EL classes, EL special events, EL clubs and other interesting and diverse EL activities. And thankfully many of you who take advantage of all that Encore Learning has to offer also give back as EL Volunteers.

Our volunteers are the lifeblood of Encore Learning. Without volunteers, Encore Learning would have no instructors, no class aides to ensure that classes run smoothly, no one to organize special events and clubs, and no newsletters. Plus, says Interim President Mildred Patterson, because we are a volunteer-supported nonprofit, our fees can remain low compared to competing organizations.

Some 100 members volunteer each semester to support Encore Learning and 150 of our members give more than 20 hours a year while over 30 are supporting the organization with over 100 hours a year! Members of the Academic Programs committee establish which classes will be offered and find the remarkable array of  by class instructors. The Publications committee develops the course catalog. Class Aides assist the instructors in the classrooms and on Zoom.

Our Instructors are of the Highest Caliber

Our volunteers have diverse backgrounds and experiences. In this newsletter, we are highlighting a few of our esteemed instructors:

D. Ohlandt, instructor for Encore LearningD. Ohlandt taught her first theater class, Theater Appreciation: The Educated Audience, for Encore Learning in 2009 when she wasn’t old enough to join. In Chicago, she taught college-level theater. After her move to Washington, Alan Keiswetter, an Encore Learning instructor, suggested she consider teaching.

Now D. has a loyal following of older students who read plays, see them produced at local theaters, and then discuss the productions. She appreciates the rich backgrounds and experiences of our students, and says, “unlike the younger students, all of them want to be there.” Olhandt’s theatrical interest has been contagious not only for her Encore students but for her family. Her 11-year-old son has been cast in his first play.

Dan Sherman stepped far afield from his profession as an economist when he began teaching EL classes.  This semester he’s teaching The Geniuses of Film:  A Selection of Greats. Dan has taught classes on Stephen Sondheim, other American musical geniuses, and done presentations on Hamilton and Casablanca, and other productions. His teaching allows him to pursue a life-long interest in the arts and to stay up to date on the technical side of software for exhibiting film clips and teaching both in-person and on Zoom.

Dan has also taught in-person and online at OSHA Hopkins, the University of Virginia, Virginia Tech and William and Mary.  What does he get out of teaching classes?  They force him to learn more and read more, and he likes sharing what he’s learned in the classroom and on-line.

While Encore Learning members take courses to learn, Jim Grefer says he teaches to learn. Jim’s an economist who has widened his interests in retirement. When someone asks a question, he gets curious and begins to research the topic. Jim has taught three classes on the economic history of the Civil War and now has broadened his scope to teach Freedom in the U.S. and Around the World. Like many instructors, Jim tends to over prepare for classes, and enjoys the interactions with students.

Jenny Sullivan taught survey literature courses at Northern Virginia Community College. When she retired in 2014, she missed teaching.  Teaching at Encore Learning is different, she says. “It’s good for me,” says Jenny.  Jenny finds pleasure teaching courses on just one author, like Flannery O’Connor* and her short stories, or even a full course on one book, such as Willa Cather’s Death Comes to the Archbishop.

*Author’s note:  Jenny’s Southern accent was a definite asset when she taught the O’Connor class.

All Our Volunteers Are Vital To Us

Class Aide assisting instructorThose who serve on the academic program committee find and schedule instructors. Class aides assure that all runs smoothly when instructors lecture in the classroom or on-line.

Wendy Swanson began volunteering as a class aide and now serves on the Academic Program Committee. “I like to give back, and Encore Learning has meant a lot to me and added richness to my life,” she said.

Months before each semester, AP committee members contact possible instructors, thoroughly vet instructors and course ideas, and coordinate course proposal forms. They evaluate which courses warrant being repeated and which new courses would be interesting for our members based on feedback. Committee members work with instructors to fine-tune proposals for classes and forward the proposals to one of the committee co-chairs. The Publications Committee steps in for the compilation of the coming semester’s catalogue and the excitement of new semester’s offerings are broadcast to the membership.

Susan Tarr, as one of our many class aides, began with work begins with training before the semester begins and continues in the classroom for each class. She first volunteered to work with an online class for which she ran the PowerPoint slides and then apprenticed in a classroom with an experienced class aide. Virtual Class Aides get a bonus for their help:  they can take a free course, and Susan has taken advantage of that.

“Encore Learning only works because we all work for it, and besides it’s fun,” says Louise Kenny, who uses her organizing skills as a member of the Special Events Committee. She and the eight or so other committee members create ideas for subjects and tours, and find speakers and guides for at least two monthly in-person or-line presentations. “In the process you meet interesting and approachable people,” she says.  Audience size varies, she says, ranging from 15 participants to close to 400 each for two separate programs on Hamilton by instructor Dan Sherman.

One of our first volunteers was Sharon Bisdee. When she retired, the organization was in its infancy as Arlington Learning in Retirement Institute.  She was asked to join by friends, ALRI’s first president John Sprott and his wife Jeanne Sprott.  Sharon traversed the county distributing literature about ALRI, served on committees and as class aide for different courses, and helped organize clubs. “I had no idea what retirement would be like,” she says, but ALRI, which became Encore Learning in 2012, gave her direction. “I didn’t have to flounder around, and I met a lot  of people. Volunteering was the whole point.  I got to work on things I knew nothing about, and I learned about the community.”

JOIN our Volunteers. . .

Encore Learning can always use new volunteers for its seven standing committees: Membership, Academic Programs, Class Aides, Publications, Information Technology, Special Events and Volunteer Coordination. Check the website, https://encorelearning.net/about/volunteer/, for more information and an application form.