Learning is a lifelong pursuit for many residents at Seabrook, an Erickson Senior Living community in Tinton Falls, N.J.--and they're not alone. According to AARP, 55% of Americans 45 and older are currently engaged in lifelong learning programs.
Seabrook Active Learners, fondly referred to as SAL, was started three years ago by Harvey Schmelter-Davis, who led the effort to create a collection of mini-courses taught by and offered to the community's residents.
Harvey, a lifelong educator, was inspired by Leonardo Cruoglio, a fellow resident who offered dozens of courses at Seabrook on his own for ten years. His goal was to develop a program similar to the renowned Lifelong Peer Learning Program at City University of New York, which draws on the knowledge and talent of the community.
A love of learning
"If you love to teach or learn, age doesn't matter," says Harvey, who teaches and enrolls in SAL courses. "I strongly believe that providing a learning program will enrich the lives of people at any age."
Today, about 300 Seabrook residents enroll in courses that are divided into spring and fall terms. Courses cover topics such as Shakespeare, travel, poetry, art, history, languages, religion, and more. In addition to offering courses on site, SAL is teaming up with Wind Crest, an Erickson Senior Living community in Highlands Ranch, Colo., to offer additional virtual courses with joint enrollment from both communities.
Kris Colabella, LCSW, manager of resident life at Seabrook, appreciates the goal of the program. "People can always learn and grow. SAL keeps residents active and vibrant," she says. "Residents are able to learn from each other and explore new interests that they might not have had the chance to do in the past."
Resident Richard Barrett, a retired chemist and former college professor, is enjoying his return to the classroom through SAL.
"Part of the joy of teaching is learning, and I think I brought that impetus with me to Seabrook," he says. "I've always tried to continue learning. Being both a student and a facilitator in the program has been an enriching experience for me."
The diverse backgrounds and experiences of the community's residents ensure that the SAL offers a wide variety of courses, benefitting both students and instructors.
Before retirement, Gerard and Marlena Seybold owned a restaurant that sold high-end red vintages from California, France, and Italy. As a result, they learned a lot about the types and flavor profiles of wine.
"We had a lot of wonderful wine," Gerard says, who is now sharing their knowledge and expertise with neighbors through wine tastings. "We decided it would be a fun thing to do."
In the early 2000s in Princeton, N.J., Flora Davis started a group called Reminiscing on Paper.
"I got so much out of it that when my husband and I moved to Seabrook in 2006, I started a Reminiscing on Paper group here," she says of her hobby-based mini course. "I have people writing short stories, poetry, and plays. People bring in what they've written and read it aloud to the group. Over the years, I have met some absolutely fascinating people and I've heard amazing stories."
Some residents enroll in courses to improve skills or enhance their knowledge of an activity that's already of interest. Others take up something completely new.
"I've taken Italian language I and II. I'm very happy to have improved my ability to speak a foreign language," says resident Sal Busacca. "I've always wanted to do that. All of these courses help us expand our intelligence and educate ourselves--it's a very satisfying thing to do."
In addition, SAL provides a way for residents to meet others who share similar interests.
"It's always a pleasure to meet new neighbors here at Seabrook because there are so many interesting people," says resident Ann Oppenlander. "We've all lived lives that are long enough to have been filled with lots of different experiences. So, meeting new people in the courses is a lot of fun!"
Many retirees are drawn to Erickson Senior Living communities because of the vibrant, active lifestyle that residents maintain, Colabella notes.
"And that includes a focus on health and well-being," says Colabella. "That lifestyle is being lived out here, every day, by residents who are engaging their minds and learning something new."