Programs Offer Learning Opportunities, Exercise, Social Life

Oasis, JCC, YMCA offer variety of programs for people over 55

By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant

You may not be able to teach an old dog new tricks, but with older humans, learning can provide lifelong enrichment and interest. Just ask Craig Peets, a 64-year-old Liverpool resident who attends classes at Syracuse Oasis.

Peets wanted something to do with his time after retiring from engineering at New York Air Brake in Watertown in June, 2016. He had read books on retirement and felt he needed to keep active to give his life purpose.

A friend showed him a catalog of Oasis classes. He thought it looked similar to BOCES classes, but oriented toward the interests of people 55-plus.

Now, Peets volunteers weekly at the administrative desk and assisting class leaders. He has taken classes on environmental topics, history, art and computers.

“Volunteering here and the hungry committee at my church, St. Joseph The Worker, and taking classes keeps me busy enough,” Peets said.

He tries to select one to two classes per semester, usually classes to expand his knowledge on a subject without the homework and assignments associated with school days.

He encourages people interested in Oasis to find classes that pique their interest and help them connect with others.

Tracie Alexander, program and volunteer manager of Oasis Syracuse, said that’s the mission of the organization. In addition to the cognitive merits of learning something, the social connections provide invaluable benefits.

“It helps them get sociable with other adults if they’re otherwise home alone,” Alexander said.

Oasis also coordinates trips, a boon to single adults who want to enjoy the increased safety and camaraderie of traveling with others. Oasis Syracuse has trips abroad planned, including Ireland and Toronto, as well as local day trips to Canandaigua and Clayton.

“I think we change people’s lives,” Alexander said. “Widows and widowers have told me they don’t know what they would do without Oasis. It’s a way to get back into life.”

She added that some couples use time at Oasis to pursue separate interests, too.

Other Options

In addition to Oasis, there are a number of places where boomers can go to further their education and get social — and active.

The JCC of Syracuse in Dewitt is one of those places. Patrick Scott, director of the JCC fitness center, said that people of all backgrounds are welcome. The JCC fitness classes include those for mature adults, such as Senior Strength and Balance and Chair Yoga.
Fitness at 55-plus is helpful for socializing and strengthening.

“Every year starting at age 30, you lose 3 to 5 percent of your muscle mass per year,” Scott said. “These classes help preserve that so you can keep living on your own, going up and down stairs and taking care of your home. You’re at lower risk of falling. It promotes quality of life.”

Scott said that many classmates get lunch together after and become friends, which he thinks is a good opportunity for people who live alone.

At, Onondaga County Office for the Aging lists numerous sites that offer programming for older adults.

Other organizations providing enrichment classes include Cooperative Extension of Oswego County, YMCA, and senior centers and houses of worship in various municipalities. Many colleges offer older adults free class auditing when space allows, such as State University of New York (315-312-2500), for example. Audited classes do not earn credits and do not include tests.