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Village Shalom University Marks Five Years of Non-Traditional Student Success

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The concept of lifelong learning maintains that education is not simply an activity for the young, but rather a means of staying that way. At Village Shalom, the annual week of lifelong learning known as Village Shalom University, or VSU, has served as a sort of fountain of youth for the residents of the continuing-care retirement community since its first “semester” in 2011. In the five years since its inception, classrooms filled with eager students have taken hundreds of courses that have covered topics ranging from the Affordable Care Act to yoga.

 Village Shalom University is the result of a 2010 satisfaction survey where Village Shalom residents indicated they wanted more educational opportunities.

 “We were surprised by the resident feedback, as there have always been educational opportunities on the activity calendar,” recalled Village Shalom Director of Assisted Living, Jill Craft. “We figured we could improve it if we packaged them together and marketed them differently.”  

 Village Shalom University relies on a curriculum provided by volunteer professors willing to donate their time to teach courses on particular areas of expertise. These professors have included Village Shalom residents, resident family members, Village Shalom staff and volunteers from the outside community. Class information is distributed to residents through a professionally printed course catalog and, just like in college, VSU students must attend enrollment sessions to ensure a spot in the classes of their choice.

Rabbi Jonathan Rudnick serves as a VSU volunteer professor. Rudnick has been an annual fixture at VSU since its inception. 

 Jill Craft along with Eileen Miller, Director of Resident Services; and Paula Carpenter, Director of Social Services; serve as VSU Co-chairs, and have been the driving force behind Village Shalom University since it began. They, along with a subcommittee comprised of representatives from each Village Shalom department, are responsible for the planning, facilitation and implementation of the week of learning. 

 Eileen Miller attests to the team effort it takes to pull-off the event each year. “We could never make VSU happen without the support of the subcommittee and all the extra work each department chips-in the week of VSU. It truly does take a village.”

 When the week of Village Shalom University arrives, the first three days are filled with upwards of 50 classes held in locations throughout the retirement community’s campus. Thursday is Field Day – a fun-filled day of competition. During Field Day, resident and staff teams represent their respective areas of the campus by squaring-off for their chance at VSU medals in a bridge tournament, trivia challenges and adapted versions of classic television game shows. The week concludes with a graduation party where professors and top students are recognized, and a special guest speaker sends students off with a commencement address.

Village Shalom resident, Lois Singer, shows off her medals from VSU’s Field Day competition.

 Village Shalom University has received its fair share of praise – not only from its participants, but from regional and national advocacy organizations as well. Village Shalom University received LeadingAge Kansas’ “Excellence in Innovation” award in 2012, and in 2013, it was recognized as the Kansas Activity Directors Association’s “Outstanding Activity Program of the Year” and RetirementHomes.com’s “Best Resident Event.”

 “The recognition really shows how important lifelong learning has become,” said Carpenter. “It’s a really special week, and it’s so rewarding to see our residents get excited for it each year.”

 The 2015 “semester” of Village Shalom University will take place the week of July 20-24. For more information and to download the VSU course catalog, visit www.VillageShalom.org/VSU.