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Outstanding Service Award:
Calvin Academy for Lifelong Learning
The graying of America has been well documented by many gerontologists who note that Americans are growing older at a rather remarkable rate. Between 1960 and 1990 the general population of the United States grew by 39 percent, but the number of persons 65 years of age and older grew by 89 percent and the number of 85 year olds and older grew by a whopping 232 percent. And the trend has only accelerated since.
In the mid-1990s a group of people at Calvin College recognized those statistics, but more importantly recognized that there were people behind those numbers-people who were vibrant, lively, energetic and eager to pursue activities that sharpen their minds and imaginations.
So in 1996 the Calvin Academy for Lifelong Learning (CALL) was established "to create an abiding partnership between Calvin College and senior citizens who wish to share knowledge, talents and experience."
"The vision for CALL was to address a need in West Michigan for stimulating activities for the retired and semi-retired," said CALL President Robert Bolt. "We determined that there were enough people who were competent and willing, if not excited, to become involved in something like this."
Initially, the organization's leaders hoped that through partnering with Calvin and its resources, they would be able to provide opportunities for CALL members.
Classes, lectures and social opportunities were among the first offerings in 1996 and the response was overwhelming.
"We were hoping for 200 members in our first year," said Bolt. The membership count actually tallied 297 in the fall and had swelled to 340 by the spring of 1997. Classes were added because of the high demand.
Membership, which is open to anyone who is retired or semi-retired, over the age of 50 and is supportive of the goals and purposes of Calvin College, rose to a high of 473 in the spring of 2000 and currently stands at 368.
Examples of classes offered for seniors this fall included "Books and Authors," "The Civil War," "Election Issues," "Exploring Computers" and "Acrylic Painting."
While course offerings were the main membership draw initially, the CALL organization also took over "Passport to Adeventures," a travelogue series, which was recently honored with the International Motion Picture and Lecturers Association's Most Outstanding Travel Series award in the University category.
And CALL sponsors the "Noontime Series," which presents a free program six times in the fall and spring on a topic of broad interest.
Attendance at both series has risen substantially under the direction of CALL.
While providing opportunities for seniors was its primary mission, CALL's success naturally adds to the college's attempt to be a contributor to the community.
"CALL, from the beginning, was a combination of grass roots and college planning. The key planning group of retirees was excited, energized and motivated to build a quality program which invited community participation, utilized the resources of the college and maximized the many gifts of seniors in greater Grand Rapids," said Darlene Meyering, Calvin representative to CALL.
While CALL has only been in existence for five years, the organization's service to the college has already been immeasurable.
"CALL has become a community for old and new friends in the area. Several folks who have moved to Grand Rapids for retirement purposes have found a "home" with CALL friends," Meyering said. These folks have brought a richness and new perspectives to those born and raised in West Michigan. These partnerships are priceless."
Besides providing an extension of Calvin into the senior community, CALL has also served the college more directly by recently establishing a scholarship, funded by membership dues and course fees, for students beyond the conventional college age.
"Calvin has been very supportive of our organization by providing classroom space, equipment and computer use at no cost to us," said Bolt. "We are grateful for that and wanted to give something back by providing this scholarship for the college."
Another venture recently taken on by CALL is the implementation of organized service opportunities. While the service committee has been a standing committee since the beginning of the organization, it had no established method for connecting volunteers with projects.
"We realized there are people who have the time and talent to volunteer but haven't had the connection to find volunteer positions," said Phil Lucasse, chair of the CALL service committee. "Here we are in the middle of the Calvin community and there are probably lots of things our members could be doing but Calvin had no mechanism for accepting volunteers so the opportunities were not plentiful and there was no training."
To help alleviate that problem CALL is helping the college fund the position of manager of volunteer services to serve as the entry point for college volunteers.
"Some times it's as hard for the volunteers to find a position as it is people to find volunteers," said Lucasse. Through the volunteer office, volunteers are matched and sometimes trained for appropriate positions.
Beyond the college, CALL also hosted a Volunteer Fair last spring, which brought in representatives from 18 different agencies who highlighted available opportunities for work in such areas as local hospitals and food banks.
"The motto for out committee is 'Tithe Your Time,' and we think that's an important thing for Christians to think about," said Lucasse. "We hope this creates the avenue for people to get started in volunteering their time and energy."
As for being the recipient of the award, "The organization feels honored and grateful to Calvin for its continued support," said Bolt. "We also feel that this award gives our organization more vitality. If people see CALL as a organization that has done a lot of good things, we hope they will want to be a part of it too."