'Once people sign up, they stay - I'm one of them'
King City resident Aileen Clark can say with pride that she is a founding member of Portland Community College's Senior Studies Institute going back to 1991.
She volunteers as a site coordinator and calls the program "a wonderful organization."
"One of the things about SSI is that it draws people with like interests, so it's great to have them to talk to," Clark added. "We draw from our members for speakers, and I did one presentation on the first female doctor in Oregon and the problems she had getting into medical school. I was awfully nervous the first few times I did presentations, but you get used to it.
"Close friendships form, and I have done trips to Ashland to see plays. I've taken two classes since the beginning - play reading and current events. Some people come only for the play readings and discussions of playwrights.
"When I first did play readings, I felt embarrassed to emote, but you get comfortable. It's a very safe environment."
For Clark, one of the big draws is that "there seems to be a slot for everyone."
She added, "I think the wonderful thing about SSI for seniors is that there is always a place to go and see people. Some of us will go to lunch or for coffee.
"It's great to meet new people whether it's at classes or the other events, and you make good friends. All the classes give you information you didn't have before. And the current events classes go on all summer."
Clark pointed out that "once people sign up, they stay - I'm one of them."
Clark said that because she did not go to college and stayed home and raised kids after working for a few years, she appreciates the intellectual stimulation that SSI offers.
After Clark's husband passed away, she worked at Lewis and Clark College as a program assistant and then at Marylhurst University where she was assigned to the Elderhostel program.
Program participants came to the campus and stayed for a week, where Clark acted as their host. But spending nearly a year back East helping her daughter with her children took Clark out of the work force, and when she moved back to Oregon, she settled in King City and got involved with SSI.
"Those of us who didn't go to college wish we had, and even those who went but didn't graduate feel the same way - that we want to continue our education," Clark said.
"This is a wonderful time to be an elder and feel welcomed to an educational setting. Everyone is expected to participate, so there is no more rocking on the front porch.
"Elders aren't isolated anymore, and I know I couldn't stand not to know what's going on. What if there was no SSI? I can't imagine that - what a thought!"