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October 9, 2013

Preparing to SOAR

By Sherri Kolade
C & G Staff Writer

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Preparing to SOAR
Society of Active Retirees members create tiles at Pewabic Pottery of Detroit during a past field trip.

FARMINGTON HILLS — Peggi Tabor could be the envy of all college students.

While the Farmington Hills retiree takes multiple classes and soaks up everything taught to her, she does not have to take any tests or quizzes.

Tabor is a Society of Active Retirees member, a Farmington Hills-based nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization affiliated with Wayne State University created to mentally and socially engage seniors.

Tabor said that since joining the organization roughly six years ago as a volunteer faculty member, she became a student and was hooked on SOAR.

“There are so many interesting classes to take,” she told C & G recently. “There is something for everybody. It is really a lovely atmosphere. I think it is like college, like I always wanted it to be.”

Tabor’s story of how she came to love SOAR is not unique.

The 20-year-old organization grew after its first fall semester with about 20 courses; the organization now boasts nearly 80 spring and fall courses, with roughly 800 members enrolled.

In addition to courses ranging from archaeology, art, film, psychology, science and sports, the organization has a book club, hosts film festivals and special events, and offers field trips.

“I go to places I haven’t been before,” Tabor said of attending a field trip at a racetrack recently.

SOAR Executive Director Ralph Stromberg said the organization started because there was a need in the community for lifelong learning, especially for seniors.

“That need is being fulfilled by SOAR and other lifelong learning programs,” he said.

SOAR members mainly come from Oakland, Wayne and Macomb counties, he said.

Stromberg said the organization is more than a social club; they promote and offer healthy activities.

“People who have no cognitive stimulation tend to decline much faster — that is a given,” he said. “Secondly, that social isolation is the worst thing that can happen to you. You can really deteriorate both mentally and physically. We provide both.”

He said field trips take the members out of their element.

“They take you out to places and you get to experience new things or things they may never have before,” Stromberg said.

The only membership requirement is interest in lifelong learning, Stromberg said.

“Though SOAR stands for (the Society of Active Retirees), you don’t have to retire from a job,” he said. “All you have to be is interested in lifelong learning.”

He added that the average age of members is 70 years old.

According to soarexplore.com, in the late 1990s, the assistant dean for off-campus sites of Wayne State’s then College of Lifelong Learning sought authorization to develop a Learning in Retirement Institute.

After approval, an advisory board for the institute, supplemented by a group of recently retired WSU faculty members, proposed to create SOAR.

Tabor, like many of the hundreds of other SOAR members, said that through SOAR she has expanded her group of friends, enriched her social life and so much more. 

“If keeping your mental synapses popping is part of healthy aging, then SOAR is just what the gerontologist ordered,” she said.

SOAR is headquartered at Wayne State University-Oakland Center, Room 148, 33737 W. 12 Mile Road.

For more information, or to donate or volunteer, go to http://soarexplore.com/ or call (248) 489-0005.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Sherri Kolade at skolade@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1046.