January 28, 2012 3:35:00 PM
Jan Swoope - firstname.lastname@example.org
BY JAN SWOOPE
Boston native Dick Mahoney has stories to share. The retired chemical engineer and baseball writer played semi-pro ball. He also managed and played in the Roy Hobbs Adult Baseball League. Along the way, he met greats like Ted Williams, Nolan Ryan and Yogi Berra and gained entrance to the Boston Red Sox's inner circle.
Judy Coleman has stitches to teach. This lifelong needlework artist is a master at crochet, needlepoint and all manner of creative craft that can be wrought by hand, hook or thread.
Deborah Johnson has technique to coach. The author and winner of the Mississippi Library Association 2010 Award for Fiction is eager to pay it forward by mentoring would-be writers in developing their own literary ideas and manuscripts.
These three -- and many more -- are volunteer instructors for Mississippi University for Women's Life Enrichment Program (LEP). Thirty-two stimulating non-credit spring courses will be offered Feb. 13 to March 30 in a dizzying range of subjects. Estate planning? Covered. Japanese culture? Done. Nature photography? Of course.
Classes are held during the day, early evening and Saturday mornings, and meet once a week for one to two hours. And for a $35 fee, participants age 18 and older can sign up for as many courses as they'd like.
What began in the fall of 2009 with six courses and 24 participants has now grown to more than 30 courses and nearly 250 people eager to take them.
"This is one of the great success stories in the community," stressed Glenn Lautzenhiser, chairman of the LEP board of directors. So much so, that in the summer of 2011, LEP Program Coordinator Dr. Barbara Moore, Lautzenhiser and board member Kathy Howell were asked to make a presentation at the University of Alabama at a conference about similar programs across the country, most of them at much larger universities.
"They couldn't believe the numbers and the quality courses we offer after such a short time," said Lautzenhiser. "I don't think we take a back seat to anybody in the quality of courses we offer. What we're doing has caused people to sit up and take notice."
Moore remarked, "There are campuses all over the country doing this ... with participants paying one fee and signing up for as many classes as you want, but we're the only one in Mississippi right now."
Although class offerings may change somewhat from semester to semester, some courses are perpetual staples. Pilates (taught by Maureen Gerber), wine tasting (Mark Grisham), yoga (Jill Williams) and gardening (Dr. Jeff Wilson), for example, have already filled due to ongoing demand.
Participants for other spring classes are asked to sign up by Friday, Feb. 3, for the best chance of getting into their courses of choice.
Tommy Hunt of Columbus is a repeat customer of the Life Enrichment Program.
"I've taken wine tasting every time they've offered it. How bad can a class be when you eat food and drink wine?" he laughed.
Hunt actually brings his homemade wine to class every semester, Moore said.
Hunt continued, "I've taken George Courington's financial advice course, which was very good, and some of the history courses, too. Any time you have Rufus Ward telling his local history stories, that's always great." He also bragged on "The Doctor is In," an innovative class organized by Dr. Chance Laws.
"Different doctors, in all different fields, would come each week to talk to us. It was really informative," noted Hunt. "I wish I could take even more classes, but I'm still a working man."
Laws actually took some computer courses: His wife, Gail, is an MUW alumna and an LEP fan.
"I took bridge, which was really great, and we've since formed a little bridge group; that's really been enriching in itself," said Gail. She took digital photography, too, among other classes.
Every semester the enrichment program gets even better, she praised.
"They ask for evaluations and feedback, and they listen. It always seems even more organized, and they make any adjustments they need to so that it just keeps improving," she said.
Passing it on
Courses are taught by volunteers from the community who are experts in their fields.
Mahoney taught the baseball course at the University of Alabama several times, to full classes. He's looking forward to it being offered in Columbus at 6 p.m. on Wednesdays -- after work hours, so more baseball buffs can attend.
"I love to have an interactive class; you always meet so many interesting people," the former General Tire (later Omnova) executive said. "We'll talk about baseball history, trivia, economics and any other aspects of the game participants want to talk about."
This semester will be Johnson's fourth time to teach "Put It on Paper."
"I really like doing it because when I started my own career, I had a lot of people help me and give me advice, so it's really nice to be able to share that with others and encourage them," she shared.
Many who sign up are aspiring fiction writers, but the class is useful for non-fiction writers, too.
Participants will learn how to structure stories and build characters. They'll even get advice about practicalities, like finding an agent and getting published.
"But there are two main things about writing. A: you have to do it and keep doing it, and B: you have to be humble because once you do it you've got all sorts of people who say you can do it better," shared Johnson, whose "The Air Between Us" (Harper Collins) won the Library Association Award. Her next novel is due out soon.
Gail Laws said, "These people do this for no pay; they're all volunteers, which I think is so wonderful. It's the community giving back through MUW enrichment programs."
For the first time, LEP is offering courses outside Columbus. Courses in calligraphy, natural medicine, research and genealogy, and archaeology of the Holy Land will be taught in West Point, at the Bryan Public Library.
Both Moore and Lautzenhiser hope it won't be long before more courses are offered in other surrounding towns.
LEP is aimed at anyone who has a love of learning.
"Our attitude is that one of the most fun things in life is to learn something you didn't know before," said Lautzenhiser. "You're going to learn, but you're also going to make new acquaintances and friends you'll hopefully keep for a long time."
Get your brochure
Contact the LEP for a class brochure by calling 662-329-7150, or the Center for Creative Learning at 662-241-6101, visit web2.muw.edu and click on the Life Enrichment link or email Moore at email@example.com.
Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.