Inside USD

University of Third Age Students Enjoy Service

Monday, August 1, 2011

Agnes West-Kohler and Mary Jane Wiesler spent last Friday morning enjoying a conversation about everything, including a brief reminiscence about nuns they both knew at the San Diego College for Women. But they weren’t talking about it over a morning cup of coffee or tea. No, West-Kohler, a 1965 SDCW chemistry graduate, and Wiesler chatted while they taped labels onto bags of dry beans destined to reach hungry San Diego-area residents.

“I really love doing this kind of community service project,” said West-Kohler (pictured, right), one of 25 volunteers from USD’s lifelong learning program, University of the Third Age who spent part of her day working in the Feeding America San Diego Food Bank warehouse. “I don’t need to take a break. I like to keep moving.”

West-Kohler’s attitude, a mix of business and fun, was shared by the group for the two-plus hours they spent bagging beans and potatoes, labeling cans of food and preparing juice boxes for shipping.

“This is an extension of social learning,” said volunteer Bob Kilian, who filled dozens of bags of potatoes alongside his wife Kathleen Slayton, the latter of whom sported a USD baseball cap. “It’s a great way to get out and see a part of San Diego that we don’t normally see and to be able help others at the same time.”

In all, Feeding America volunteer coordinator Alicia Saake stated at the end of the shift that the volunteers labeled and boxed 1,750 cans of food, 1,800 bags of beans and packed 2,000 pounds of potatoes into bags. A few volunteers also decorated small lunch bags with pictures of produce and playful slogans such as “you’re just grape,” “an apple a day keeps the doctor away,” and “orange you cute?”

Jodi Waterhouse, director of USD’s program for 15 years, smiled and termed this experience a rousing success. While the 33-year-old USD program has organized off-campus field trips in years past, this was the first time Waterhouse’s group had broken away from the normal routine of its sessions each January and July to do a community service event.

“This goes back to USD’s holistic approach to education,” Waterhouse said. USD and remains the lone such program in the United States adopted the concept of University of the Third Age, created in France. Students pay $150 each to attend a three-week session. They take computer training and/or a Tai Chi exercise class at 8 a.m. They then listen to a pair of stimulating lectures on topics such as health, spirituality, sustainability, current news and more. The just-completed session, which had several USD faculty, staff, alumni and even a group of engineering students as speakers, had the program’s highest attendance to date, Waterhouse said.

While the program has many regular attendees — “We’ve already blocked out January and July on the 2012 calendar,” Kilian said — Friday’s event, Waterhouse said, “helps us expand on the program beyond the lectures and it’s a great way for us to give back to the community.”

Waterhouse tried another new idea last week. At the conclusion of USD Director of Sustainability Michael Catanzaro’s lecture about USD’s recent environmental achievements, participants followed him to USD’s e-waste collection center, located on the far west side of the campus, 5330 Linda Vista Road, to recycle their outdated technology products.

The partnership with Feeding America, a non-profit organization that has been in its current San Diego location since November, also makes sense. Executive Director Jennifer Gilmore was a lecturer earlier in the July University of the Third Age session and several USD alumni and current graduate students work amongst its staff. Waterhouse said she’s interested in doing more work with Feeding America as well as organizing ways for other USD academic departments to get on board.

But Friday’s event was most rewarding for Dolores Juditz (pictured, left) and Ann McDonald, both potato packers, who were relishing their “meaningful” participation and reinforced what has been a hallmark of USD’s mission.

“What I like is that an important part of USD’s curriculum is teaching students to come away with not only their education, but the idea and experience they need to make the world a better place,” Juditz said.

— Ryan T. Blystone

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