It started in 2002 as a poetry class in a church basement. When the majority of participants turned out to be seniors it inspired a light bulb moment for Active Minds co-founder John Henderson. Seniors, he thought, might be interested in some classes on the arts and history.
To test his idea, Henderson sent flyers to 11 senior living communities. He received nine responses expressing a desire for programs on current events and Active Minds* was born. With Henderson as instructor, and friend and Active Minds co-founder Zane Robertson handling logistics, the fledging organization started developing one-hour/one-topic presentations on poetry, history and current events presented regularly at area retirement communities.
Today Active Minds offers a broad array of topics, typically adding three new topics per month – one historical, one current events and one music appreciation, Robertson said. It also promotes health-related programs through a partnership with HealthOne. Its dozens of world issues classes range from Afghanistan to Yemen and include baseball, beer and bees.
And in addition to regular presentations at most senior living communities in the greater Denver area, Active Minds provides programming at no cost at libraries and community centers and at Tattered Cover Book Store on East Colfax.
“Our biggest initial hurdle was finding more teachers who could teach like John (Henderson),” said Robertson.
Retired teachers and professors were ideal candidates. Today 25 to 30 percent of Active Minds faculty are retired teachers, “and we’re looking for more,” Robertson said.
Mary Ann Shepard started teaching for Active Minds after she retired from Cherry Creek School District in 2006, where she taught high school honors world history. Among her current Active Minds’ course topics are Brexit, Eleanor Roosevelt and the significance of 1968.
“It’s a fantastic program with a wonderful mission to introduce current events and history to seniors,” Shepard said. “As a retiree I enjoy the stimulation and opportunity to learn and prepare new subjects, to expand knowledge and to learn from our participants.”
Retired after 35 years of teaching high school history and political science, Frank Dachille heard an ad for Active Minds teachers on NPR. He’s been with the organization for a year, teaching history and current events at four different senior communities.
“I enjoy doing research and providing new information,” Dachille said. “And I enjoy the give and take of the questions. My students bring their own perspective and wide life experiences and I learn from them.”
Active Minds also draws faculty from among the University of Denver’s School of International Studies graduate students, as well as trainers and adjunct professors.
Applicants are carefully vetted, said Robertson. “First we look for demonstrated great teaching ability, and then for content knowledge for the courses we offer.”
Active Minds is now developing webinars to meet the demand to expand its programming to more venues and individuals.
For more information on Active Minds programs and schedules, or to apply as a teacher, visit the website.