Twenty-two years ago, Myrna Shapiro opened up her local Long Island newspaper and discovered an ad for classes she could take at home over the phone. Since Shapiro was confined to a wheelchair, she immediately decided to try it.
â€œI started taking one or two classes and I got hooked, the 75-year-old said.
Provided by Dorot, an organization that has helped the elderly since 1976, the program she joined was University Without Walls. They offer about 160 courses each term on subjects across the board, including opera, poetry, film, finance, art, and religion.
The first class Shapiro took mimicked today"s book clubs, where the participants read and discussed a four books over time, all without actually meeting in person. Nowadays this might not sound so novel, but University Without Walls started in 1989, when online video chatting didn"t exist and the conference call wasn"t a common thing.
â€œThe genesis of the program is figuring out a way to create a community for seniors who have a hard time getting out of their house, whether they are bed-bound, need assistance, or because of the weather, said Bonnie Jacobs, Dorot"s director of education. â€œPeople know they are expected to be on the call's if they aren"t, people are concerned.
The process of the program proved simple. Each class gets a facilitator for about 10 to 12 students. The price is cheap, around $12 per course, and they don"t give out any homework or tests. Once signed up, on the appointed day and time everyone calls in and the course becomes an interactive discussion. Or karaoke, like the â€œSing-Along Broadway course led by Leo Schaff, an actor and songwriter.
Another way the itinerary becomes interactive is through books that Dorot ships to the students, like the one used in â€œThe Modern Portrait, a course on objects in the Museum of Modern Art taught by Diana Bush, an education specialist at MoMA.
â€œTrying to make a connection over the phone is so different than lecturing in a gallery, said Bush, who has been giving art courses with the organization for four years. â€œBut the most rewarding thing is how much I learned through our discussions.
The â€œOld Books, Rare Books seminar is taught by a rare book cataloger from the New York Public Library; the â€œPoetry Co-Op is run by a poet and former New Yorker writer, and â€œFolktales of Sukkot features discussions with a rabbi.
For Ricki Saady, University Without Walls has deepened her connection with her religious community. At 52, Saady is one of the younger students, but since she is homebound with chronic fatigue and severe asthma, it has helped her stay active and kept her going. For 11 years she has participated in discussions about the Torah, Jewish mysticism and biblical studies and has facilitated courses on different people in the Bible like King David and Jacob.
â€œIt"s been a lifesaver, the program, she said. â€œIt"s helped people that can"t go to schools to take courses and I have also developed a lot of friends through it.
Shapiro said she too has clicked with a few people and developed long term friendships based on shared interests and chemistry through the courses.
Over the phone, naturally, Shapiro said, â€œI am very grateful to Dorot because it has provided a wonderful outlet for me and I only have good things to say about everybody.
Trackback from your site.