ENCORE gives elderly a second chance

The students were gathered outside, waiting to go into their watercolor painting class and take a seat at their desks that were carefully arranged in a rectangular formation.

A student graciously agreed to come outside. She sat on a bench. Her face was lit by the sun, and her outgoing personality shined through the genuine and welcoming smile on her face.

Twenty-one years ago, Christina Pickard had an injury that made her feel like her life had no purpose.

It wasn’t until she enrolled in the ENCORE program, she said, that she found meaning again.

ENCORE is a program that provides older adults with high-quality education and a place where they can be themselves, share experiences, and learn.

ENCORE classes are offered on a free non credit or fee based not for credit classes.

“Classes are free and curriculum are approved and funded through Sacramento (some classes have a nominal materials fee),” according to ENCORE’s website.

It can be a lifesaver for some who have lost loved ones. When they come to class, they can meet people who understand what they’ve been through and support each other in a welcoming environment.

Pickard has been a student with the ENCORE program for about nine years, and its given her the opportunity to fulfill one of her life long dreams: oil painting.

“You don’t get many life fantasies to come true. And one of my life fantasies was to study painting with oils. And here I am,” Pickard said.

Pickard describes ENCORE as life-giving, and, for many others, lifesaving.

“It’s literally life-giving for many people because you reach a point where circumstances don’t allow you to participate in many life functions out there, and this gives an opportunity,” Pickard said. “I’ve heard comments from people saying that ‘I would literally die if I didn’t have these programs because I would just sit at home, curl up, and give up.’”

Like Pickard, many of her classmates have joined ENCORE because it gives them the opportunity to pursue their dreams and the chance to start a new chapter in their lives.

Seventy-five-year-old Paul Melzian, who has been with the program for five years, decided to pick up a paintbrush nine years ago after retiring from the graphic design field. He describes ENCORE as the best thing that happened in his life after leaving his occupation.

“I always wanted to do watercolors, and I had a chance after I retired. I am as happy as a lark,” Melzian said. “There is no way I could have gone and done all of this without ENCORE, which is almost too good to believe that we have this. We all wonder how long its going to last.”

Seventy-nine-year-old Bennett Levin, also worked in graphic design for some years and went back to school through ENCORE after retiring.

“I don’t have much motivation to paint on my own. I need a place and a time to go and do it,” said Levin. “And it has been very helpful for me to have this facility available and to have wonderful instructors as John Paul.”

Since attending ENCORE, Levin has been given the opportunity to exhibit his paintings in the San Fernando Valley Art Club and the Valley Watercolor Society, and is now teaching two art classes at a senior residents’ home.

“It’s kind of like starting a whole new career at my age,” Levin said.

Adjunct professor John Paul Thornton has been working with ENCORE for two years teaching art history and painting classes.

“I really love it. The thing I love about it is the students who are here are bringing with them their tremendous life experience,” Thornton said. “They are incredibly educated and traveled. I can’t say a thing in there without someone reminding me and making sure that I am saying everything the right way.”

Thornton said that, on average, he has about a 100-person waiting list for each of his classes, and that his students are eager to learn and rarely miss lectures.

“They are in some ways living their dreams. They are making their dreams a reality,” Thornton said. “Its not just leisure. Ideally, ENCORE is keeping them positive. There is a real sense of community here.”

Marilyn Weiner, another ENCORE student, described how her life drastically changed after her mother’s death, slowly pushing her into depression.

She received the Pierce catalog in the mail, signed up for classes, and started school with ENCORE.

“It was a big stretch to step out of the box and leave the house because literally, I was so sad. It put people back in my life. It put art in my life, and I was able to express myself artistically, giving my emotions into the art,” Weiner said. “It has just been such an enriching and incredible experience. I wake up in the morning at 4 o’clock to see its time to start painting.”

ENORE is not a program where seniors take classes and leave. There is a sense of community, according to Thornton.

“I keep thinking about the line in the Gettysburg Address that this nation should have a new birth of freedom, and that is what ENCORE has been for me and I know for many others,” Pickard said.

For more information about ENCORE, go to community.piercecollege.edu/encore.