Arts and laughs: Castine Center classes offer lively continued learning

Thursday, 20 July 2017, 12:08:36 AM. At age 87, Violet Chanove, of Mandeville, has survived four strokes. She gets around slowly with a walker and with the aid of caregiver Janet Thigpen.

At age 87, Violet Chanove, of Mandeville, has survived four strokes. She gets around slowly with a walker and with the aid of caregiver Janet Thigpen.

But just try to keep Chanove away from the arts and crafts classes she attends two or three times each week at the Castine Center in Pelican Park. Crocheting, cardmaking or painting. If Chanove’s up to it, she’s there.

“I enjoy it all,” Chanove said during a recent crocheting class taught by Natalia Corbett. “We all have a good time.”

That’s a significant part of the intention for Pelican Park’s adult arts and craft program — getting people involved in group activities while they’re learning, or at least improving on, skills they can utilize for years to come.

And it’s a formula that working.

The classes, particularly those held during the morning and afternoon, attract a sizable number of senior citizens, overwhelmingly female.

More than 50 are held each month, and demand for more is growing, so much so that Erika Lehrmann was recently elevated to full-time status as the program supervisor of Pelican Park. She had worked part-time for two years at the taxpayer-funded facility, located on U.S. 190 east of Mandeville, which is best known for its youth sports programs.

Lehrmann, a Fontainebleau High and LSU graduate now completing her master's in arts administration at the University of New Orleans, said she “grew up” at Pelican Park, participating in its programs and even working the concession stand during baseball and softball games.

But she acknowledged she was surprised by the popularity of the adult programs when she arrived and by the ever-increasing demand for new ones.

“In a lot of cases, we’ve had waiting lists every time new ones were formed, and we’ve had to add more,” Lehrmann said, mentioning One of a Kind Cards, in which participants make individual greetings cards, and NOLA Acrylic Painting, which focuses on creating local scenes, in particular.

“And we’re always looking for new areas that we think people might be interested in," she said.“We obviously want to keep our regulars coming back, but we could use more young people and more men, just about everybody. And any instructor who has an idea for something, we’ll certainly listen to.”

The card-making class's popularity comes from the idea of adding a personalized touch to something that’s largely disappeared today — getting mail from someone you know.

“You can tell the love and care that went into making them,” Lehrmann said. “And the ladies get a great sense of joy knowing that they’re putting smiles on other people’s faces.”

Among the upcoming additions are glass art and mini-scrapbooking, which is less demanding than the familiar version, Lehrmann said.

All of Pelican Park’s arts and craft classes are free. The instructors' stipends are funded through the general budget, with funds available to add more.

Lehrmann said she is exploring nominal fees ($25 or so) for registering for multiple classes beyond the beginners’ level that would cover the money for supplies, "making it basically revenue neutral.’’

Also, there are no residency restrictions on the classes like there are for youth sports.

But not all of the classes wind up being successful. An attempt to add personal development classes on subjects such as financial management and coping with family problems have failed to gain much traction.

Bridging the gap between tradition and contemporary skills was a class where students designed their creations on computers, the better to involve younger people.

But folks do keep coming back to the tried-and-true, such as crocheting.

Corbett has been conducting crochet classes for about five years, and she focuses on keeping things fresh for her regulars.

“It’s amazing to see what they can do,” she said. “Sometimes I don’t think they really need my help, but I’m here if they do.”

However, Crystal Bardwell, of Mandeville, said that what she’s learned from Corbett has helped her take a largely self-taught skill to another level.

Bardwell, who originally learned single- and double-stitching from an elderly friend, said that thanks to the class, she now knows how to read a pattern and why certain stitches are used.

“Natalia got me out of my comfort zone,” she said. “I’m comfortable trying anything.”

Don’t forget the health benefits, either.

Mary Doran, of Mandeville, attends crochet classes with her daughter, Kristen Folse, and granddaughter, Tucker Goldman.

In fact, Doran’s introduction to knitting came from her teenage grandson Eric Ponchieux, who was assigned it for therapy in school to “keep him busy.”

“My mind was getting marshmellowy,” Doran said. “Without these classes, I would be in my little rut sitting in my little room. Coming to this class makes me want to get out and be with people more. Even if your mind doesn’t work that well anymore, you can do this.”

Knitting — along with painting and card-making — have been beneficial to Chanove as well.

She and Thigpen quickly fell into the routine of socializing and regaining what for Chanove had been a lost skill, an elaborate table cloth she did years ago being proof of that.

And her grandson, Trey Chanove, has turned Violet’s dining room and kitchen into a virtual one-woman gallery. A wedding card sent to a niece has a special place in that home.

“Miss Violet wasn’t getting out of the house much,” said Thigpen, who also takes part in the classes. “Now she looks forward to coming to the classes. She’s getting sassy again too.”

“There are a lot of beautiful people in my classes,” Violet Chanove said. “And coming out here helps me concentrate again. I want to keep going and going and going for as long as I can.’’

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