In 2015, shortly after Dick and Darlene Malenfant had moved into their new apartment home at Wind Crest, the senior community managed by Erickson Living in Douglas County, Colo., they had dinner with another resident. During the meal, their new friend mentioned that he was giving a course on Shakespeare as a part of the Wind Crest Learners program. Dick was intrigued and wanted to see what it was all about.
“I took that course; it was great, and then there was a follow-up course on Shakespeare, so I took that too,” says Dick. After he got a taste of the program, he realized that he could also bring something to it, besides being a student. Before he retired, Dick had worked for the University of California, but in New Mexico. Because of his work, he had a background in radiation and nuclear topics and used to give presentations at universities across the country on nuclear criticality safety.
According to resident Doug Willey, who along with his wife Jean, has been part of the Wind Crest community for three years, the Learners program has been around nearly as long as Wind Crest has been open. In the beginning, it started with only 12 participants. Now, they have roughly 825 members—approximately half of the population of the Wind Crest community.
Doug, who is a facilitator and an organizer of the program, says that members pay just $10 a year (which is used to offset the costs of printing materials and the like, as all the instructors are volunteers), and can attend as many classes as they like.
Instructors are all residents. But that doesn’t mean it limits the class topics—far from it. Facilitators include retired residents who taught in high school or at the college and university level, industry managers, former government workers, military, accomplished hobbyists, scientists, and those who have a strong passion for the subject matter they present.
“There’s the value of people who are retired being able to volunteer time to help other people with learning and continuous education,” says Wind Crest Executive Director Craig Erickson.
“Once you get people interested in telling their stories, there’s all kinds of stories to be told,” says Dick.
Classes normally meet weekly for anywhere from four to six weeks, depending on the topic. Each session is about an hour to 90 minutes long. Usually, about 15 or 16 different classes are offered each term, and some of the topics taught in the past (and may be again in the future) are Take a Walk in Nature; Animals in Human Society; Bird Watching Around Colorado; Poetry Favorites; Supreme Court, History, and Process; Joy of Barbershop Music; and many, many more.
So many residents were interested in taking classes that they would fill up quickly. Those involved wanted to make it fair for everyone, so they went to a lottery-type selection process.
"One of our members created a custom computer program that randomly assigns everyone a priority number and then distributes people to their preferred classes with the priority number used when a class is oversubscribed,” says Doug. “Our goal is always to ensure everyone gets at least one class.”
Classroom to Zoom
Recently, some classes moved online via Zoom, the Internet-based meeting platform. People who didn’t know how to use Zoom watched training videos with them—both facilitators and students. Doug says they asked students after the first Zoom classes were over if they would take classes via Zoom again, and 92% said they would. Now, some community members want Zoom classes all the time. The digital aspect opens the class up to even more residents who want to participate.
“There are people who like the idea that they can do a class in their pajamas and drink coffee in their own home,” says Doug.
Even before he moved into Wind Crest, Jack Crosby took classes in the program. He and his wife were living a mile away from the community while their apartment was being built. As a result, they were invited to begin participating in community life at Wind Crest— one of which was the Learners program. After moving in to his home in July 2020, Jack began taking classes on Zoom.
“One of the women in the class said, ‘I kind of like this better because I can see everybody’s faces now. When I’m in class, all I see are the backs of their heads,'” says Jack.
He adds that they’re talking about the possibility of doing hybrid classes in the future—in which some students are in the classroom, while others are on Zoom. With Zoom, he says, “You can see all of the people, and you can converse with them. I find it a much more relaxed atmosphere for a course. It’s convenient.”
Consider Wind Crest if you’re interested in living in a connected and engaged senior independent living community. Educational and social opportunities, resort-style amenities and new friends await. Request more information today.