Many baby boomers are looking for a community of people of similar age and similar experiences. Dolores Tropiano thinks she’s found it…at a university with classes just for boomers.
About a year ago, Woody Garvin, the pastor of Valley Presbyterian Church in Paradise Valley, Arizona, pressed the people in his congregation to come up with a new way to reach out to the community.
The church had spent years feeding the physically hungry, but what they discovered through research was that many baby boomers in the neighborhood were hungry for more. Boomers wanted both a community and intellectual stimulus.
That was the genesis of Encore University, which opened its doors in September 2013 with a goal of getting a hundred students registered. They quickly surpassed their goal with 144 enrollments, the new students signing up for courses in cooking, drawing, finance, historical tidbits of the West, and more, and a realization by the people behind Encore that they may be on to something. They are targeting the fastest growing population in America today with classes, lectures, trips, and weekly outings.
Encore is the only university of its kind on a church campus. And although a school in a setting like this might seem like a stretch, it came together as if it was divinely inspired.
The church already had multiple classrooms that were empty throughout the week. Now they are bustling with boomers on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays. Another space-turned-student union was created where senior students can gather before and after classes.
Like any entrepreneurial endeavor, the business plan was vision first, development and action next. The church had never embarked on a project the size of Encore University. But the Encore team developed a strategic plan, together with policies and procedures, as well as a plan for supporting funds to carry it out.
Classes are $25 each, and for $100, students can take an unlimited number of courses each semester. Encore is non-accredited though; what boomers earn is an honorary degree in “Adventure” or “Fun.”
They are able to finally spend time pursuing passions like art, language, and travel that they may have pushed aside during career or family-building years. They also make friends and develop a community in a safe setting. And test-free classes provide all the stimulus of school with none of the stress.
A bonus for boomers in the area is that it’s all set in Paradise Valley. The church stands against the backdrop of the beautiful Camelback Mountain. The chapel was designed by the late NASA artist Bob McCall and the stained glass glistens in the Arizona sun.
Encore organizers do have an ulterior motive: what they hope is that once students have gotten a taste of the environment, they will return with their minds and their souls for more teaching on Sunday morning.