From the Addison County Independent
May 16, 2024

[ Subscribers to the Independent can read the story online. ]

Justus Sturtevant, ESI College Coordinator for Elderly Services.

MIDDLEBURY — For more than 20 years, Elderly Services has been offering an array of community programs featuring local experts, various Middlebury College professors, authors and others through our Lifelong Learning program, ESI College.

Although the program survived the pandemic, leaders had to navigate many challenges to allow the programs to continue via Zoom in a more limited fashion.

Now, however, thanks to the appointment of a new ESI College Coordinator, Justus Sturtevant, and a generous grant from the Vermont Community Foundation, the upcoming summer series has a new lease on life and a new focus.

ESI FOCUS: CLIMATE CHANGE CONVERSATION

Over the next year, ESI College will have a focus on climate change, thanks to an Environmental Justice grant from the Vermont Community Foundation, according to ESI Executive Director Kristin Bolton. “As we saw last summer, with the wildfire smoke, windstorms, extreme heat, and floods, the effects of climate change are being felt in Vermont. Older people can be some of the most vulnerable to climate crises due to health and technology limitations, and yet are not always part of the conversations at a local level,” she said. Five of the twelve programs deal with various aspects of climate change and are being called the “Climate Change Conversations” within the larger series.

“The goal of the Climate Change Conversations is to provide education and engagement on environmental and climate initiatives locally and globally, and to have older voices be heard, from the classroom to the statehouse,” Bolton said.

“Classes in climate change range in scope from the international to the very local, including: Professor Jess L’Roe’s research on the effect of tree planting in Uganda; the innovative work of New Perennials to re-imagine agriculture and education; NOAA’s Scott Whittier talking about Vermont weather and how it has changed; Bill Schubart’s class on understanding how Vermont government works; and Jay Leshinsky’s talk on the power of gardens to create community” she added.

A RETURN OF ESI COLLEGE FAVORITES

“Along with the environmental focus, the ESI College summer series will also offer classes on past favorite topics, including Robert Wyatt’s very engaging musical storytelling, Russ Leng’s brilliant historical political perspective, Caleb Kenna’s awe-inspiring photographs of Vermont, Matt Dickinson’s incisive analysis of the upcoming election, and book groups with Elise Blair and Michael Thomas,” ESI College Coordinator, Justus Sturtevant, said. “What we have heard over and over again from past ESI College participants is how much they love the more informal and organic learning opportunities rather than a more formal curriculum-based approach,” he added.

The summer series kicks off on June 19 with a two-part program entitled: “Reverse Engineering Vermont Government Institutions to Achieve Progress” led by Bill Schubart. Schubart has lived in and written about Vermont for decades and has served as board chair for numerous Vermont organizations, including Vermont Public, UVM Medical Center, Vermont Digger, and the Vermont Board of Libraries. He has published several novels set in Vermont and regularly contributes to local print and radio media. 

“To those not involved in state government, the process of making changes to our laws seems painstakingly slow. To effect any change, we first need to understand the inner workings of our state government, its weaknesses, and strengths. With an understanding of current structures and functions of the Vermont government, students will then consider and discuss what changes could be made to facilitate more effective governance in the state of Vermont,” Schubart said.

Susan Wilmer, a member of the Friends of ESI College, a new community advisory committee, is excited the series is being re-energized and expanded, as she has participated in many programs in the past. “ESI College has allowed me to fill in gaps in my education and explore new topics in history, art and music,” she said.

In order to make the programs more accessible, ESI will be moving to a new “pay-what-you-can” approach, rather than requiring a set fee. “We do not want finances to be a barrier to these programs, so we are trying this new approach,” Sturtevant explained.

More detailed information on all 12 programs, including online registration, can be found at the Elderly Services website at www.elderlyservices.org.