Health Care, Higher Education, and Real Estate

Learning never ends at living facility

Holland Home offers classes for residents taught by other residents, staff.

September 23, 2016
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The Resident Enrichment Academy for Living classes are spreading throughout Holland Home’s campuses and are led by both residents and outside speakers. Courtesy Holland Home

For residents at Holland Home’s Raybrook and Breton Wood campuses, school is back in session.

About two years ago, staff at Holland Home Raybrook was looking for a way to engage the independent living center’s residents and bring them all under one roof to strengthen the community’s culture of growth and learning.

With so many former teachers, professors and educators populating Holland Home’s communities, the staff came up with the Raybrook Enrichment Academy for Living, or REAL — a collaborative initiative to offer educational opportunities driven by residents and staff.

“All of our residents had great careers and great lives before they moved in here, and we wanted to give them a platform for those talents, skills and abilities,” Holland Home Director of Resident Life Marenta Klinger said. “REAL became an all-encompassing answer to those goals.”

Through REAL, now the Resident Enrichment Academy for Living as it expands into Holland Home’s other campuses, residents and staff teach courses on topics of their choosing, using their prior knowledge to facilitate learning opportunities for the community as a whole. About 60 percent of the classes are taught by residents or staff, and the other 40 percent by outside speakers who teach on a topic chosen by the community.

“It’s a huge resident-driven initiative, and that’s what makes it unique,” Klinger said. “It’s their academy, and we won’t schedule courses unless it’s something they want to learn about.”

As the program grew, a REAL Advisory Board was instituted to help choose the upcoming courses.

Course topics have ranged from the Revolutionary War to cooking courses, to a resident-driven film appreciation series and a “Meet the Candidates” panel, also moderated by the residents themselves. Classes typically run about an hour long — a 45-minute presentation followed by 15 minutes of questions — and can run as either a weekly series or a one-time discussion. A monthly course catalog informs the residents of upcoming topics that will be available.

Between the Raybrook and Breton Wood campuses where the REAL program currently is in place, nearly 175 courses have been offered, with class sizes ranging anywhere from seven students to a maxed out room at 150. On average, about two or three courses are offered each week.

Klinger said one of the biggest positives from the program has been the way the community has increased its interaction across all levels of care. She cited a longtime resident who said he had met more fellow residents in the two years of REAL than he had in his previous 10 years living at the facility.

“It’s really helped to blend the community and help residents interact with people they wouldn’t normally interact with,” Klinger said.

The REAL program recently won LeadingAge Michigan’s 2016 Leading-Edge Care and Services Award, and Klinger said the plan is to expand the program to the rest of Holland Home’s facilities.

“The concept of lifelong learning isn’t new, but having a lifelong learning academy in a resident home is sort of unique,” Klinger said. “This model has helped uncover the vast, untapped potential of our residents here. It blows me away how often a resident will teach a course, and I’ll learn something I never knew about them, or the topic.

“It’s been very cool to watch them come alive through these courses.”

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