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Active retirees have zest for learning

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Retirement can be an exciting time of personal growth and fulfillment. Some take advantage of their free time to pursue new interests. Others rekindle a passion for a hobby or activity that had to be put aside when priorities like raising a family or building a career came first. According to 79-year-old Perrietta Hester, her senior years have been her best. And she's doing her part to help others have a similar experience. Hester teaches painting and drawing to older adults at the Clairemont campus of the San Diego Centers for Education and Technology (SDCET). Time and again, she has witnessed students blossom, whether they are exploring their artistic side for the first time or honing artistic skills they already possessed. "I had one student who had always wanted to pursue a career in art, but his father wouldn't let him because he didn't think he could make any money at it," Hester said. "Now, he sells his pastel drawings of people. He finally got the recognition he needed to know that he could have made it as an artist back then if he'd had the chance." The classes are free and cater to students of all levels, even those who have never picked up a paintbrush or drawn anything more complicated than a stick figure. Hester's students recently painted pictures of cats and dogs for the San Diego Humane Society. The paintings were exhibited by the society and sold as part of its fund-raising efforts. While students reap the rewards of creating art, they also get to meet new people, a benefit that is equally important for many. Hester had one student who suffered from depression after retiring from a successful career. After joining the class, she regained her spark for living as she discovered art and made friends with other students. "It's so nice for people to have a community of other students to work with, to have a social group," Hester said. Another SDCET teacher, Rey Vinole Jr., helps older students with musical talent and a love of big band music achieve their dreams of performing professionally. Vinole's big band class meets Mondays from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. at the West City Center Point Loma campus auditorium. "The class is really vocational in nature," Vinole said. "I teach students how to perform in professional venues. I'd say about half of the band members don't come from a professional musician background. But with me, they eventually do play professionally." Vinole's big band has existed in various incarnations for 30 years and performs regularly at community events. The average age of the band's 18 members ranges between 50 and 70. And while they all have a fair amount of musical experience, their vocational backgrounds are diverse. "We have everyone from retired judges, firemen, doctors, lawyers, retired teachers and professional musicians," Vinole said. "They just all really enjoy big band music, and many of them get good enough to go out and form their own band. You'll find my band members and former band members performing at many venues in town." Vinole encourages those who are interested in joining the band to come and try out. Even if someone is not quite ready for a chair in the band, or there isn't one available, they may be able to work their way in as a substitute musician. "I'll put people on a sub-list and call them when we need someone to fill in," he explained. "Since a lot of people do end up moving on, many people get to move up to a regular spot in the band that way." In addition to pursuing interests that nurture their creative side, many retirees are interested in classes that offer practical benefits that can enhance their daily lives. Some who are new to the world of computers, for example, want to get up to speed on surfing the Internet and using e-mail. OASIS, a national education program for people 50 and older, can help them master these skills. OASIS San Diego offers a series of four core six-week classes specifically designed for older adults with no or limited computer experience at its Clairemont and La Jolla computer labs. According to Harry Matheny, director of OASIS San Diego, older people are very interested in the Internet and e-mail. Some students also want to learn word processing, for business or personal purposes. "Introduction to Computers," a course that covers computer basics and provides a glimpse into e-mail and the Internet, is particularly popular among students who haven't been exposed to computers in the workplace. "We have small labs with an instructor and 10 computers, so people get a lot of personal attention," Matheny said. "For the six-week sessions, participants get to use the computer lab for free for three months as part of their registration fee. If they don't have a computer and aren't sure they're going to get one, they can use the computers in the lab to help them decide. They can also play around with e-mail to figure out things like whether it would really be an effective way for them to communicate with their grandkids." Once students have the basics down, they can take a variety of one-day sessions that focus on topics such as organizing e-mail and using the Internet as a research and resource tool for healthy living. "If you throw the technology out there, you find a lot of people who are ready for it," Matheny said. In addition to OASIS, other organizations that offer computer classes specifically for seniors include Senior.Net. SDCET also has computer classes. While they are not designed solely for seniors, many are tailored to the needs of older students. Adult continuing education organizations, such as Learning Annex, also offer a wide array of computer classes for students of all ages.

O'Donnell is a freelance writer in San Diego.

Resources The following resources are a starting point for those seeking to expand their horizons by learning something new or getting reacquainted with an old activity or interest:

City of San Diego Park and Recreation Senior Services and Activities Telephone: (619) 236-6905 Web site: www.sandiego.gov/park-and-recreation

Learning Annex Telephone: (619) 544-9700 Web site: www.learningannex.com

Mission Valley YMCA Active Older Adults program Telephone: (619) 298-3576 Web site: www.missionvalley.ymca.org

OASIS Telephone: (619) 574-0674 Web site: www.oasisnet.org/sandiego

San Diego Centers for Education and Technology Older Adult Classes Telephone: (619) 388-4950 Web site: www.sandiegocet.net

SeniorNet Learning Centers Telephone: (858) 824-6575 Web site: www.seniornet.org/usa/sandiego

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