As director for OLLI at UNC Asheville, I experience much of our programming from the periphery. I sample the work of committees, the programs and activities and attend to the concerns of the membership in formal and informal ways. I see my job as bringing together the right ingredients to inspire our 2200 members to thrive in life’s second half. I sometimes feel a little like a cook working with many others to prepare a huge banquet. I taste and sample to make sure that everything is well-prepared, and I see what others are preparing to make sure that we will have a balanced and well-rounded meal. My satisfaction comes behind the scenes rather than in enjoying the feast. I help to plan the menu and create the right atmosphere, and I get to enjoy hearing the happy buzz that comes from a group of people who are warmly welcomed and well-satisfied.
One of the dishes of the OLLI feast that I enjoy on the periphery is Men’s Wisdom Works. The groups run themselves with very little need for support. They are an important ingredient in the mix of our offerings, and they are something that you just can’t get most places. Just as the aromas from a feast can sometimes be as much of a treat as the meal itself, the effects of Men’s Wisdom Works inspire me with a sense of the ways our organization engages participants. When I am the last person in the office, I relish the sound of a burst of laughter from one of the men’s groups meeting on the other side of the wall. When I leave the office at the end of the day, I often encounter groups of two or three men continuing a conversation that began in Men’s Wisdom Works. I am always greeted with a quip or a question that reminds me that although I don’t participate and didn’t create the groups, that I am part of the larger effort that encourages innovative programming to meet the unique needs of our participants.
Sometimes someone tells me directly that Men’s Wisdom Works was a lifeline when he was struggling with loss or trying to navigate an illness or just trying to figure out what retirement should look like. Often I hear that men gather not only when I get to hear or see them but enjoy weekly breakfasts or happy hours to continue the conversation and camaraderie. I don’t participate in the groups, but I know they are part of what makes OLLI such a treat.
Being in the presence of Men’s Wisdom Works has changed my perspective on the ways men experience the transition from work to retirement and has helped me to better understand the importance of offering a support system for men in transition. The groups have helped me to see that the right combination of ingredients can create an offering with an unexpected and delicious flavor. Here’s to the continuing and growing success of the idea of Men’s Wisdom Works . Bon appétit!