Group formed to organize framework for community edAs River Falls Parks and Recreation coordinator, Cindi Danke gets asked a lot about programs and classes. Because of her job, she often, but not always, know the answers.
By: Phil Pfuehler, River Falls Journal
As River Falls Parks and Recreation coordinator, Cindi Danke gets asked a lot about programs and classes. Because of her job, she often, but not always, know the answers.
Is there a cake-decorating class? Cooking? Woodworking? Knitting? Crocheting? Mechanics? Baking? Glass staining? Computers?
“It would be nice to have a place that had all that for a person to look up,” Danke said.
She recalls browsing at the public library and learning there was a Scrabble group that met twice a month to play.
“That was pretty cool to find, but it was just by chance that I came upon it,” Danke said.
Last summer Trudy Ohnsorg wanted to enroll for some kind of community education class through the school district.
“I just wanted to see what was out there,” she said. “I was hoping to take an enrichment class, something artistic, maybe. I’m a lifelong learner. It’s just who I am.”
Ohnsorg’s search of the school district’s Web site was a bust. That’s because River Falls, unlike a lot of other school districts, including New Richmond, Hudson, Ellsworth and Prescott, has no community education. In Minnesota, school districts are required to offer a community education program.
“I was dumbfounded to find out that we had nothing here,” Ohnsorg said.
But she didn’t sit still. Ohnsorg, like Danke, is part of a recently formed group, River Falls Community Education Collaborative, that meets monthly.
The group’s goal: Build a Web site to disseminate information about existing classes that would loosely fall under the “community education” banner. If enough funding is found, the information would also be printed and distributed.
Public Library Director Nancy Miller is also a member of River Falls Community Education Collaborative.
Miller said the group is not creating or supervising community ed classes, just bringing existing ones to the public’s eye in a calendar-type format.
“It’s about getting the word out and having a ‘one-stop shopping’ site where everyone knows where to go.” Miller said. “It’s a starting point for bringing community education to River Falls.”
Miller said River Falls has had an intriguing range of enrichment classes over the years, including noncredit introduction to Spanish at UW-River Falls; Tai chi at the River Falls Area Hospital; Yoga at the YMCA; along with individual instructors of belly and tap dancing; Ukrainian egg decorating; watercolor painting; camping/hiking/orienteering; plus groups that meet regularly, such as various book clubs.
Ohnsorg said national studies show that strong community ed programs improve health and longevity among citizens. Community ed also brings people together “to know your neighbor.”
Ohnsorg said school districts that offer community education enjoy broader support and connection from its citizens, especially older ones who are empty nesters.
Miller added that a functioning community ed program is simply “fun.”
Both women said that River Falls has a decentralized array of skills, crafts and cultural classes that are too often not well known, meaning they’re an untapped resource.
The hope is that group’s new Web site will be a focal point where people turn when they want to learn or experience something new.
“We’re on the cusp of having a functioning Web site that will do that,” Ohnsorg said.
The River Falls Community Education Collaborative is working on a mission statement.
The group is also devising a system for submitting information about classes and creating a fee structure for those wishing to be listed. Grants and sponsorships will also be sought to pay for this informational Web site.
“We will need to develop on ongoing funding mechanism to continue,” Ohnsorg said. “The (group) will need to decide on a process and set a criteria regarding what programs can be listed…we will also need to set our pricing structure before we can officially launch the Web site.”
Miller and Ohnsorg say they would be only too happy someday to allow the school district to take over community education in River Falls.
Until that happens, or even if it doesn’t, the group’s Web site will call attention and centralize those types of classes that already exist.
River Falls Community Education Collaborative has these other members: Carole Mottaz, retired local teacher and administrator; Mayor Don Richards; Jeffrey Kulow, vice president of River Falls Community Arts Base; Heather Logelin, Kinnickinnic Health Foundation director; Cindy Wells-O’Malley, UW-RF Outreach program manager; Rellen Hardtke, UW-RF physics professor and local school board member; and Tom Westerhaus, school district superintendent.
For more information, call Ohnsorg at 426-0602 or e-mail her at tohnsorg@LegacyBiographic.com.