Staying vibrant and making new friends are two reasons that men and women ages 50 to 90 take classes at the People Program, a nonprofit ministry of the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph women religious.
“I really enjoy coming,” Martha Chaplain, 89, said recently while painting a picture in an acrylics class. “I take three or four art classes every semester, and I am currently taking piano. Genealogy is one of my favorites. We just started doing research. It’s really interesting.”
While Chaplain was in the art room, other members were in nearby rooms learning computer, playing the violin, getting in their morning exercise and even sewing garments.
“I do it to keep my mind active,” said Katherine Grinstead, who was participating in the sewing class and has been involved with the People Program for five years. “I try to do something new every year.”
From art to music to exercise to games and almost every interest imaginable in between, the People Program has approximately 100 volunteer instructors who teach the topic.
That’s been the beauty of the People Program since its inception in 1974 when Congregation of St. Joseph Sister Alice Marie Macmurdo recognized the importance of staying active after retirement and how retirees had gifts they could share with each other. Classes first began with 35 participants at the St. Joseph Novitiate on Mirabeau Avenue in Gentilly until Hurricane Katrina destroyed the site.
Expanding their knowledge
Today, approximately 475 individuals take adult education classes every semester at a new site on Lakeshore Drive and a satellite location in Algiers on the West Bank.
The People Program is ever-evolving to match the interests of its members. For the upcoming spring 2017 semester, the People Program has upgraded with 20 new computers and added new language lab equipment for foreign language studies and the ancestry.com series.
Other new classes for the spring semester include ukelele, paper pottery, “Floral Arranging with Your Personal Garden” and “Mindfulness for Health and Happiness.” The most sought-after classes are fitness, art, history and genealogy.
Three religious also will teach classes in the spring, including St. Joseph Sister Janine Beniger teaching “Dreams: Discover Your Inner Teacher,” “Introduction to the New Testament,” “Old Testament – Prophets” and “The Book of Exodus”; School Sister of Notre Dame Elizabeth Willems teaching “World Religions”; and Marianite Sister Gretchen Dysart teaching “Save the Earth.”
The People Program has had Ph.D. candidates teach various classes through an alliance since 2011 with the School of Aging Studies at Tulane University and the School of Public Health at Louisiana State University’s Health Sciences Center that began with former People Program executive director Laverne Kappel.
In the spring, Ph.D. candidate Skylar Lewis will teach a course on “The Myths and Misconceptions of Aging,” a course she taught this recent semester. LSU Ph.D. candidate Amelia Robert will again teach “Eat! Plan! Live!” a discussion on better nutrition habits for healthy living and disease prevention at the People Program in Algiers, while three new interns will teach the same course at the Lakeshore campus.
Registration continues for the spring semester in January at the People Program’s two locations: 2240 Lakeshore Drive at Elysian Fields Avenue or Holy Spirit Catholic Church, 6201 Stratford Place in New Orleans (Algiers). There is a $150 flat fee each semester for unlimited classes. For details, call 284-7678 or 394-5433 or email firstname.lastname@example.org; www.peopleprogram.org.
Christine Bordelon can be reached at cbordelon@clarion herald.org.