Friends to learn |

By Jill Reiley

WHEN RETIREMENT IS OFTEN SEEN like a shining prize on the horizon before it arrives, many people find its reality difficult. Suddenly losing the structure of schedules, projects, and socializing with co-workers can open up a void that’s hard to ignore.

The people behind Friends for Learning understand this challenge all too well. That’s why they do what they do.

Friends for Learning is a group – and a whole team effort – of classes and activities organized for seniors to socialize and meet new people, all in affiliation with the Idaho Continuing Education Program State University. It’s a place to exchange ideas, learn new things and develop new skills. It is a permanent opportunity to keep the heart young and the mind sharp.

President Vicky Van Sickle and the Friends for Learning committee regularly work on the class itinerary, meeting with sub-committees to organize upcoming events and classes.

Each of the classes is taught by a true professional with extensive experience in the subject he teaches. Classes run the gamut of topics and areas of exploration, from ethnic cooking classes and classic car collection tours to week-long hikes and bike tours.

The courses are organized in two semesters per year. Anyone aged 50 and over can access the range of courses for a small and extremely reasonable fee per semester.

Many people join Friends for Learning for the Hike, Walk and Explore Alone (HWE) course – by far their most popular course with outings year-round.

It’s one thing to describe the general idea behind Friends for Learning, but quite another to look at the real details of any given week. Let’s follow our retired friend—we’ll call her Jodi—throughout a week in Friends for Learning.

School is in session

While many retirees are sleeping on a Monday morning in November, Jodi is up and ready to go. She has her sports clothes and laced shoes. It’s time to move! At 10 a.m., Jodi arrives for a one-hour fitness class that is suitable for everyone, regardless of their agility level. Jodi stretches and moves well, sweats and drinks lots of water. She’s ready for a refreshing shower when she gets home.

Later that night, Jodi prepares for another outing. Tonight is a cultural cuisine dinner with a variety of French dishes. She arrives at dinner just before 5:30 p.m., ready to eat. She leaves filled with good food, good memories and the warmth of the conversations she had that night. What a day!

On Tuesday mornings, Jodi attends a 10-hour class on the history of Yellowstone Park and the five different railroads that once served its various entrances. The class instructor is the author of many railroad books. He shares a wealth of interesting information. After the lecture, the group has a very engaging discussion and Jodi leaves feeling intellectually stimulated.

At 9 a.m. Wednesday, Jodi goes to the Eastern Idaho Aquarium for a visit. The group has a great time observing all the different fish, amphibians and other animals in the aquarium. The air is warm and tropical at times and Jodi almost feels like she’s on vacation. It is good to walk there. She is happy to have come. After lunch, Jodi heads for a 1 p.m. class on how to make baklava. The class is interesting, new and tasty. Class participants enjoy chatting and laughing as they prepare the dish. The results are worth the work. Jodi finds baklava to be the perfect afternoon treat.

On Thursday, Jodi arrives at Farr Candy Company for a 10 a.m. round. The tour is fascinating and Jodi loves learning about four generations of family candy makers. The copper kettle where the sweets are cooked is particularly fun to see, as is the old-fashioned creaming table. And everyone likes to see where candies are hand-dipped. The tour is awesome. Jodi leaves with her mouth watering and makes sure to buy some candy before she leaves.

On Friday, Jodi enjoys a beautiful morning at home. After lunch, she arrives at 1:30 p.m. for a computer class on Shutterfly photo books. She’s been interested in working on her computer skills for some time, albeit a bit intimidated, and finding a way to organize all of her photos is always on her list. She is delighted to see how simple and fun the course is. By late afternoon, she’s convinced she can create her own digital scrapbook, which she knows her grandchildren will love.

The heart behind the project

Many people put regular hours of thought and effort into organizing classes so that Jodi can enjoy an active week engaging with new people and new ideas. None of the committee members or instructors are paid for what they do. They volunteer their time simply for the benefit of the seniors in our community – a true labor of love.

Jodi and others report that Friends for Learning is a life-saving program, pulling people out of the dangerous pit of depression and loneliness. Friends for Learning is a community and haven for all seniors in the Idaho Falls area navigating the difficult roads of retirement. It’s a railing to hold on to and a place to find peers who are going through the same things.

And for Jodi and others, it’s also an adventure of exploring new horizons.

To register for the fall semester, which is in full swing, visit or call Vicky Van Sickle for more information at 208-589-6055.

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