By Jill Draper
A group for older citizens that offers lectures, book clubs, lunching out and local tours has received a $600,000 gift to upgrade its facility and offer a stipend to instructors.
SPARK (Senior Peers Actively Renewing Knowledge) is now the SPARK Flossie Pack Center for Lifelong Learning after a donation from the Pack Family Foundation. Affiliated with UMKC, the center has been providing education for those 55 and older since 1993.
“This is kind of an exciting time for us,” said Janet Parks, a SPARK board member who lives in Waldo. She said the organization will be holding hybrid classes—both in person and online—this fall. The lineup was finalized around mid-August and an open house is set for Thursday, Sept. 2.
Classes met virtually last year, but beginning on September 20 they also will be held at the SPARK headquarters at 48th Street and Troost in the same building that houses KCUR public radio. Most classes are 6 weeks long and focus on history, current events, art, literature and music.
Parks began taking SPARK classes after retiring. She likes the variety, and says it has allowed her to expand in many different areas. “Plus, the people involved are just great. We tend to see each other at places like the Missouri Reparatory Theater, the symphony. We’re the kind of people who like to get out and experience things.”
Classes usually meet weekly for 90 minutes to two hours. Instructors are volunteers and range from an expert on Harry Truman to a classical music aficionado to a former advanced placement history teacher. A popular series on Western civilization focuses on post-WW II Europe, with successive studies of the 1960s, the Middle East, India and Asia. Another course called Gems focuses on a different topic each week by inviting people from the community to talk about their jobs or businesses. There are two book clubs, a Friday lunching out group and occasional trips to places like Loose Park and the Kansas City Museum. A tour of street art in the Crossroads District was postponed last year due to COVID.
Two aging specialists and a financial advisor talked last spring about senior living options, with Zoom field trips to nine local retirement residences along with input from some of SPARK’s own members. “Just like looking at colleges,” the course listing states.
The pandemic lowered the organization’s membership a bit last year, Parks said, but the board hopes it will return soon to normal levels of 200 or more.
“What’s unique about us is the camaraderie of the group,” she said. “We have diverse people from all over. It becomes very congenial.” After courses went virtual last year, several members who are “snowbirds” were able to participate throughout the winter, she added.
The cost for individual classes ranges from $25-$30 and annual dues are $40, however, members joining this fall will pay only $20 until the new year starts in January. A scholarship fund is available to help those with limited incomes.