Wesley retirement communities offers a full spectrum of options for aging well, including a network of services that meet the physical, social and spiritual needs of older adults. A hidden gem that incorporates this philosophy is Wesley U, an award-winning and innovative enrichment program focused on lifelong learning.

Originating at Wesley Des Moines, the non-accredited courses are designed for meaningful learning, interaction and personal growth with the interests of mature adults as the focus.

“Research shows it’s important to keep our brain and heart stimulated, especially as an older adult,” says Kathy Burrows, the Des Moines community’s Wesley U coordinator. “The Wesley U classes offer social engagement and focus on connecting the body, mind and spirit.”

Residents have embraced Wesley U, as is evident by the popularity of the program.

“It’s so enriching to be able to continue to learn,” says Rita, a Wesley Des Moines resident and Wesley U board member. “It makes life so much sweeter. I’ve also met some lovely people.”

Class topics range from literature, history, current events and personal development to hands-on visual art experiences. When possible, organized excursions are structured to enhance the classroom experience. They’ve included a scenic hike leading to a waterfall while listening to flute music, and a museum tour with a docent for a broader insight one might not experience on a self-guided tour.

Most Wesley U classes are currently held on Zoom or in small in-person groups, but this hasn’t slowed attendance. Rita has noticed that the art classes are always very popular. She’s seen people progress in their art and happily display it.

The field trips are also very popular. One of Rita’s favorites was visiting the Bullitt Center in Seattle, the “greenest commercial building in the world.”

“Even during the pandemic, there are 60–90 people on our Zoom calls,” Burrows says. “The classes are popular because the topics are resident-driven, and we cover topics you wouldn’t necessarily get anywhere else. I partner with a resident board, and together, we design a rotating program covering a wide range of topics with knowledgeable and dynamic speakers.”

She says online classes are limited in size to allow for discussion or question-and-answer time. Speakers include published authors, specialists in a chosen field, professors from local colleges and universities, and sometimes even residents themselves.

Wesley Des Moines partners with several organizations — including the King County Library System, Highline College and Humanities Washington — to offer a variety of presenters on entertaining, enlightening and empowering presentations.

Because of the pandemic, many Wesley U classes are now offered online.
Because of the pandemic, many Wesley U classes are now offered online.
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“We have great partnerships to cross-promote our classes, which allow us to bring the community together,” Burrows says. “Residents are encouraged to bring family and friends from the broader community. It’s great to learn with people from different backgrounds, from a variety of ages and experiences, so that we can look at topics from all angles.”

“It can be lonely as we age,” Rita adds, “but Wesley U is such a community builder!”

Courses are offered at Wesley Des Moines, as well as Wesley Lea Hill in Auburn and Wesley Bradley Park in Puyallup. They will also be provided at Wesley at Tehaleh in Bonney Lake.

Thanks to the support of the Wesley Community Foundation, residents and non-residents ages 50 and older can take advantage of Wesley U classes for free. For information on how to join a Wesley U Zoom class, contact Burrows at 206-870-1385 or kburrows@wesleyhomes.org, or visit WesleyChoice.org/WesleyU.

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Wesley Des Moines: Tours by appointment only at 815 S. 216th St., Des Moines. Information at 206-824-5000 or DesMoines.WesleyChoice.org.