Prime of your Life: Meet the new face behind ElderCollege

Carol Lees recently stepped down from her role as ElderCollege coordinator, and as of Jan. 1, Sharon Blaker has taken her place.

Sharon Blaker (left) has taken over Carol Lees' job of ElderCollege coordinator.

Sharon Blaker (left) has taken over Carol Lees' job of ElderCollege coordinator.

They’re both organized, they both like lists, and they’re both Type A personalities.

It’s a perfect fit.

Carol Lees recently stepped down from her role as ElderCollege coordinator, and as of Jan. 1, Sharon Blaker has taken her place.

“I’m very excited. Carol is incredibly organized and I think it’s going to be challenging, but she has made it so easy for me,” said Blaker in December.

Lees was the coordinator of the school for students over the age of 50 for three years.

“This has been an amazing job,” said Lees. “It’s so interesting. There’s something new every day.”

“One of the most significant things I get to do is find courses and then find the instructors to match the courses,” she added. “I’m going to miss the intellectual stimulation of the instructors and talking about what they have to offer.”

Twice a year, Lees has been responsible for sourcing out more than two dozen ElderCollege classes and instructors for the upcoming semester.

“Not only do we have to come up with a big batch of courses, they have to fall into different categories like cultural, active, tech, discussion, and lecture style. And they have to be balanced,” said Lees.

Now it’s Blaker’s turn to find the future teachers of ElderCollege.

“I’m looking forward to sourcing out instructors,” said Blaker.

A former community justice forum trainer with the RCMP, Blaker retired in June 2012 only to return later that year and retire again in March 2013. Since then she’s been the vice president of the Rotary Club of Chilliwack (2013/2014) and is currently the president of the club.

“I have a friend who said I would not be out of retirement for two years, and she’s right,” said Blaker.

She took the position as the new coordinator of ElderCollege because it sounded like a lot of fun.

“I one hundred per cent believe in lifelong learning. We have to keep those brain cells alive and working,” she said. “I love working with the volunteers. I love the partnership with UFV, and I think the idea of being here on campus will keep me young.”

This isn’t the first time Blaker has been involved with ElderCollege. She has taught two classes in the past; one was the popular Travel With Me course, and another was a session on restorative justice.

Lees has also taught a Travel With Me course, and she’s also been an ElderCollege student.

Courses like Travel With Me and Tapestry for Thought are offered every semester, with different topics and different instructors each time. The majority of the other other courses are brand new.

“We are both connected to the community,” said Blaker. “We have a lot of resources that we can go to and access.”

It takes months to organize the next set of instructors for the courses offered at ElderCollege.

“They don’t have to be teachers, they just have to be experts in their fields,” said Lees.

ElderCollege celebrated its 15th anniversary this past fall. They’ve had hundreds of teachers over the years with a wide variety of expertise ranging from the arts and travel, to health and genealogy, to history and languages, and more.

“We are rich in leadership in our community in terms of what people know,” said Lees.

She also welcomes people who may be interested in teaching a course at ElderCollege to contact them. Instructors volunteer their time at the school, but they do get a stipend to help pay for gas money, and parking pass.

The bulk of the courses are held at UFV, but they are also partners with the Neighbourhood Learning Centre located at the newly built Chilliwack secondary.

Some people take courses because they live on their own and it connects them to people of their own age, said Lees.

Currently there are 500 people registered with ElderCollege. Annual registration fees are $12 per year.

In addition, there are dozens of volunteers. Some are regulars in the office, while others are on the program committee, and administration committee, and council.

“I’m going to miss the people I this office. We have volunteers that work here every day. They become really close colleagues,” said Lees.

Their need for volunteers increase the most twice a year on registration day, where they require at least 60 people to help out. Registration for ElderCollege’s spring 2015 semester has already passed, but sometimes there are still spots open in certain courses.

“We both appreciate the skills in this job and we both appreciate each other,” said Lees looking at Blaker. “I’m leaving my baby in good hands, and I believe that ElderCollege is going to be blossoming in the future.”

Anyone interested in becoming an instructor or registering for ElderCollege, or those wanting more info, can call 604-702-2611 or email elder.college@ufv.ca.

The new office hours are Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. There’s more info at www.ufv.ca/eldercollege.

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