How We Created Education Programming for Seniors in Our Rural Region - Exponent Philanthropy
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How We Created Education Programming for Seniors in Our Rural Region

The Chapel Hill Foundation, based in Plattsburgh, New York, in the Adirondack foothills and on the shores of Lake Champlain has a dual mission: enriching the lives of children, and meeting the challenges of an aging society. We’re a small foundation with assets under $2 million, and annual grants totaling about $75,000. One of our notable successes is our Senior Scholar program, now in its eighth year.

The Senior Scholar program

The program was designed to offer challenging seminars and talks for older adults, together with a social component. It gets cold up here in northern New York during the winter, and we sought to help people be a little more active and connected.

Photo by Christian Langballe on Unsplash

We meet for six consecutive Thursdays beginning in late January. In the morning, attendees choose from one of four six-week seminars on a specific topic. Class size is limited to twenty, so as to facilitate interaction. Everyone then gathers together for lunch. An afternoon program is geared to the resulting larger audience. This year, the pandemic has forced us into programming on a Zoom platform for the first time.

We’ve come a long way from our first year, when 13 people signed up, and we had to do some cajoling to secure seminar leaders. This year we have 64 participants, just off our previous high.  Teachers, the majority of whom have been college professors, ask to return on a regular basis.  In fact, word has now gotten around, and potential leaders contact us asking if they can participate. Our teachers praise the program for its motivated audiences and high level of interaction.

Program topics have ranged widely. We’ve covered regional history and environmental subjects, a range of literature from novels of World War I to Canadian fiction, advanced genetics, and less easily classified courses like the anthropology of food, and studies of witch trials in the Middle Ages. We actively seek input from attendees.

This year’s seminars are:

  • The Black Plague in Medieval and Early Modern Europe
  • The American Revolution in New York’s North Country 1775-1777
  • Six Major Archaeological Finds—One from Each Continent
  • Life Lines—Writing Memoir

    There are also weekly afternoon Zoom sessions for the entire group. We’ve had a private concert by an Adirondack songwriter/folk singer, a behind-the-scenes tour of a museum of decorative arts, a special presentation by the New York State Director of the Office for the Aging on the the agency’s plans for 2021-2, plus talks on journalism in an era of “fake news” and a modern take on “Pinocchio.”

    Senior Scholar marks a collaboration between three entities:

    1. The Chapel Hill Foundation provides funding to supplement tuition, which covers about 50% of the cost. We also coordinate program development and invite speakers.
    2. Senior Citizens Council of Clinton County handles registration, payments to speakers, and all the financial management. They also do publicity and serve as the point of contact to the public via phone and e-mail.
    3. Clinton County Office for the Aging does publicity, provides on-site audiovisual support during sessions (not needed this year with 2021 being remote), and does post-series evaluation.

      Although we anticipate the program may return to its usual format in the future, there are a few advantages this year. No one has to worry about parking. Enrollees can attend sessions even if out of town for a week. And there won’t be any cancellations because of weather!

      As for the future, we’re looking to add an annual summer lecture series. We did a trial of this last year with our “Covid Semester,” an eight-week series of talks.

      Rich Frost, President of the Chapel Hill Foundation Board, is a physician by training. He writes extensively on regional travel and history, including the bimonthly newspaper column “Rich in History.” He lives in northern New York with his wife Marty and Labrador retriever Zoey.


      1. Tricia Napolitano

        I love this!! What a great way to get seniors out, learn something new…or old, and socialization for seniors who may live alone. Have you considered maybe a ‘senior’ and ‘youth’ get-together? What better way to learn history than from our Seniors.

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