People Program at Holy Spirit for young at heart

The People Program, a ministry of the Congregation of St. Joseph for those 50 and older
When: Summer classes begin June 11-16 and end July 16 at the main campus in New Orleans.  The fall session runs Aug. 25-Dec. 12 at both sites.
Locations: 2240 Lakeshore Drive, New Orleans; 6201 Stratford Place in Algiers at Holy Spirit Catholic Church
Register: 284-7678 (Lakeshore), 394-5433 (Algiers) or visit

Before a room full of people at the end-of-spring program for the People Program at Holy Spirit Catholic Church in Algiers, Shirley Judge and Veronica Tuazon weren’t bashful at all as they performed the hula.

Sharing talents intellectually and creatively is what teachers and students ages 50 and older do every semester through the People Program, a ministry of the Congregation of St. Joseph established 40 years ago. Classes are now offered at two sites – the main campus at 2240 Lakeshore Drive in New Orleans, and the 10-year-old site in Algiers, Holy Spirit Catholic Church, 6201 Stratford Place.
Computers, social media, foreign language studies, jewelry making, tap and flash dancing, Mah Jongg, guitar, violin and gaining knowledge of the history of New Orleans or the Civil War are but a few of the 115 classes offered by the People Program.

“We have an extensive, vibrant program with teachers who are all volunteers,” Delores Heglar, West Bank program director, said. She emphasized the involvement of Holy Spirit parishioners in the Algiers location – approximately 55 percent of volunteer teachers are Holy Spirit Church parishioners, and more than 200 students attend upwards of 60 classes each semester, with approximately half having taken  classes since the site opened.

Heglar said the Holy Spirit site is not a senior center with classes; it is a program for “active learning.”

“No other church in the archdiocese has this,” she said. “We wanted this for our seniors.”

Because of longevity and established relationships with students, Heglar said she and other staff can quickly notice behavioral changes that might require attention or a call to family.

“Since many are parishioners, we can talk about the support services that the parish might have,” she said. “The care goes beyond the classroom.”

Students love the companionship of the program.

“The whole point of the People Program is we want to avoid isolation,” student Jan Martino said. “It gives us a purpose to get up and get out. I often hear, ‘I’m doing things now that I’ve always wanted to do but never had the time.’”

New classes for fall
The newer offerings at Holy Spirit are computer related. Check out computer basics, laptop genealogy research, iPad tablets, Windows 7, Windows 8 on PCs, laptops and tablets, computer special topics on Facebook and Twitter, Internet security (how to find free computer security programs), how to block pop ups and what to do when things go wrong on a computer.

Heglar, who does curriculum development, said program flexibility allows her to add classes that are suggested as long as a teacher is found. “Then we see how popular it is.”

The Algiers location recently upgraded classrooms to offer a wireless campus. A bequest from former People Program teacher Frances Steinbarger made it possible. Max Winkeler, a Holy Spirit parishioner and lead Internet Technology volunteer in Algiers, coordinated the upgrade to allow more students in computer classes. In late August, the Frances Steinbarger Media Center will be dedicated.

“We are able to go wireless from laptop to the display screen,” Heglar said. “That means an instruction can visually give step-by-step instructions for students to see on a Smart TV in the classrooms,” Heglar said.

With a wireless campus, teachers can access demonstrations for any class.

“Live video streaming will be a great resource for our teachers,” Heglar said.

Pam Rawle, 70, who started as a student years ago on suggestion of a friend, now leads Book Buddies, a class where participants read and have an interactive discussion about books.

“One of the things I wanted to take was a watercolor class,” Rawle said. “I had never worked with that medium, and enjoyed that. I think the friendship, the camaraderie and interaction between students is wonderful. We learn so much about each other. It’s kind of cathartic. You learn you have more than you think you have. Between the great grandkids and this program, that’s what keeps me young and active.”

“Through this program, I’ve met so many nice people,” said Margie Boe, 92, an instructor in bromeliad growing. “It’s real relaxing.”

Christine Bordelon can be reached at

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