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Friends for Learning

Where Idaho Falls' Retirees Stay Engaged

Published in the October 2022 Issue Published online: Oct 02, 2022 Senior Living
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By Jill Reiley

WHILE RETIREMENT IS OFTEN SEEN as a gleaming prize on the horizon before it arrives, many people find its reality to be challenging. Suddenly losing the structure of schedules, projects and socialization with coworkers can open up a void that is hard to ignore.

The people behind Friends for Learning understand this challenge all too well. It’s why they do what they do.

Friends for Learning is a group—and a full-team effort—of organized classes and activities for seniors to socialize and meet new people, all in affiliation with Idaho State University’s Continuing Education program. It’s a place to engage with ideas, learn new things, and develop new skills. It’s an ongoing opportunity to keep the heart young and the mind sharp.

President Vicky Van Sickle and the Friends for Learning committee work on the class itinerary regularly, meeting with subcommittees to organize upcoming events and classes.

Each of the classes is taught by a true pro with ample experience in whatever subject they’re teaching. Classes cover the gamut of topics and fields of exploration, ranging from ethnic cuisine classes to vintage car collection tours to week-long hiking and biking excursions.

The classes are arranged in two semesters per year. Anyone 50 and over can gain entry into the range of classes for a small and extremely reasonable per-semester fee.

Many people join Friends for Learning for the hiking, walking and exploring class alone (HWE)—by far their most popular class with outings year-round.

It’s one thing to describe the general idea behind Friends for Learning, but it’s another to look at real specifics in a given week. Let’s follow our retired friend—we’ll call her Jodi—through a week in Friends for Learning.

School’s in Session

While many retirees are sleeping in on a Monday morning in November, Jodi is up and ready to go. She’s got her workout clothes on and her shoes laced. It’s time to move! At 10 a.m. Jodi arrives at an hour-long fitness class that’s suitable for everyone, no matter their agility level. Jodi gets some good stretching and movement in, breaks a sweat and drinks lots of water. She’s ready for a refreshing shower when she gets home.

Later that night, Jodi gets ready for another outing. Tonight is a cultural cuisine dinner featuring a variety of dishes from France. She arrives at the dinner just before 5:30, ready to eat. She leaves filled with good food, great memories and the warmth of the conversations she had that night. What a day!

On Tuesday morning, Jodi attends a 10 a.m. class on the history of Yellowstone Park and the five different railroads that once served its various entrances. The class instructor is the author of numerous railroad books. He shares a wealth of interesting information. After the lecture, the group has a highly engaging discussion and Jodi leaves feeling intellectually stimulated.

At 9 a.m. on Wednesday, Jodi heads to the East Idaho Aquarium for a tour. The group has a great time observing all the different fish, amphibians and other animals at the aquarium. The air feels warm and tropical at times and Jodi almost feels like she’s on vacation. It feels good to walk around. She’s glad she came. After lunch, Jodi heads to a 1 p.m. class on how to make baklava. The class is interesting, new and tasty. The participants in the class enjoy chatting and laughing while they prepare the dish. The results are worth the work. Jodi finds baklava to be the perfect afternoon treat.

On Thursday, Jodi arrives at Farr Candy Company for a 10 a.m. tour. The tour is fascinating and Jodi loves learning about four generations of family candy-making. The copper kettle where the candies are cooked is especially fun to see, as is the old-fashioned creaming table. And everyone loves seeing where the candies are hand-dipped. The tour is a blast. Jodi leaves with her mouth watering and makes sure to buy a few candies before she goes.

On Friday, Jodi enjoys a nice morning at home. After lunch, she arrives at a 1:30 p.m. Shutterfly photo book computer class. She’s been interested in working on her computer skills for awhile, though a little intimidated, and finding a way to organize all her photos is always on her list. She’s delighted by how simple and fun the class is. By the end of the afternoon she is confident she can create a digital scrapbook of her own, which she knows her grandkids will love.

The Heart Behind the Project

A lot of people put regular hours of thought and effort into arranging the classes so Jodi can enjoy an active week engaging with new people and ideas. None of the committee members or instructors are paid for what they do. They offer their time simply to benefit the seniors in our community—a true labor of love.

Jodi and others report that Friends for Learning is a life-saving program, lifting people from the dangerous pit of depression and loneliness. Friends for Learning is a community and haven for all the seniors in the Idaho Falls area who are navigating the difficult roads of retirement. It’s a railing to hold onto and a place to find peers who are going through the same things.

And for Jodi and others, it’s also an adventure of exploration into new horizons.

To register for the fall semester, which is in full swing, visit www.friendsforlearning.com or call Vicky Van Sickle for more information at 208-589-6055.

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