A Conversation with Mary Jane McKeen
Innis College student, Teodora Pasca, recently sat down with LLL Board Member, Mary Jane McKeen, to discuss her passion for lifelong learning, community engagement, and living life to the fullest.
[Teodora] How did you first get involved with LLL?
[Mary Jane] I had just retired, and I always enjoyed learning. A friend told me, “Put your name on the waiting list, and whatever course they offer — take it!” It was Astronomy, which I love. I really enjoyed it, and that was 8 years ago. Today, as Facilities Chair, I am responsible for organizing Town Hall for our lectures. I arrange seating. I am the liaison with AV. I arrive an hour before Town Hall opens to set up for the volunteers and before the members come in.
[T] What would you say is your favourite part of the position?
[MJ] I think saying, “Good morning! How are you today?” — welcoming everyone. The other best part is just the enthusiasm, the buzz of conversation, and that people are always eager, eager to learn. I’m amazed! Age is no barrier to learning [laughs].
This past term, I worked with Principal Charlie Keil and Cameron Clairmont, the CAO, in gathering input from the members regarding accessibility at Innis College. We have a number of members who have those issues, and so it was important to address those. The majority of our members are able bodied, but we do have that component and as our demographic ages people that used to come on their own, come with mobility aids or by wheel-trans. But they’re just as eager to learn as they were 50 years age.
[T] You mentioned a commitment to accessibility, can you just speak a bit more to that? What, perhaps, would you like to see done further at the College?
[MJ] One of the goals of Later Life Learning is to make sure that every member who comes has a seat that allows them to access the course. This is really important because there’s nothing worse than feeling left out, isolated, or alone.
One of the big things to address is barrier-free doors coming in and out of Innis College. I know that the government legislation has changed, regarding this, and Innis College, under the leadership of Principal Keil and Cameron [Clairmont] are beginning to address it. There will be an improvement to the St. George entrance, providing some type of barrier-free accessibility. The washrooms were done, which is a tremendous joy. Town Hall is easily accessible, and it has the wheelchair seating areas so people can come in and park. We also have wireless hearing transmitters available to those members who require it. We had the pilot for this technology with Town Hall AV, last year, and it worked really well.
So, I think that those are really the main issues. We’re lucky that Innis College has those things available, and that they’re moving forward. It takes a lot of money, but I’m really pleased that the College has the commitment to do that, and they see the value of hosting Later Life Learning.
[T] The College is still not fully accessible, but I have seen efforts made to push for that kind of change. So, I’m really glad that you brought that up. It’s good that your members have felt included and felt accepted within the community and within the space.
[MJ] Yes. With Cameron’s help, and at Principal Keil’s suggestion, I sent out letters to LLL members asking for their input regarding accessibility. Members were very happy to do that, and there was a healthy response. Principal Keil and Cameron said that, by providing this concrete evidence, it makes it easier to push forward with changes. So, that was really good.
[T] It seems that there’s a lot of correspondence between members and the board. Do you get a lot of feedback?
[MJ] Yes, anyone who has any issues or concerns is free to email the LLL email address (firstname.lastname@example.org), and we do our best to address them.
The Board of Directors and the volunteers all wear nametags. This makes it easy for members to identify us to ask their questions: “By the way, have you thought of this…?” or “I have a concern about that…” or “When will this happen?” It’s a nice way to make the members feel more welcome because we don’t want anyone to feel isolated or shut out.
There are no questions or concerns that are unimportant.
[T] Can you tell me more about your personal commitment to lifelong learning, and volunteering with LLL?
[MJ] The saying at home that I grew up with was, “There’s always enough for one more. There’s always something to learn.” The learning opportunities that are provided by Later Life Learning are vast — many, many opportunities.
As a retiree, attending LLL lectures certainly opened my mind to new ideas, new ventures to explore, and new articles and books to read on subjects that to me were unfamiliar. Like the one last term on Archaeology. I thought it was just about digging up stones. Wow, it is so much more! LLL has put my life in touch with many other retirees, who are also so greatful for the opportunity.
Community involvement began when I was really young. I volunteered at church. I volunteered at a school for the blind. Since I’ve retired, I’ve got even more involved. You know, my parents sacrificed a lot for my sister and I when were young. So, when I retired it was really important to find a way to give back for that gift.
Being involved in LLL is continuing a legacy that my parents left to my sister and I: “Always give back. You’re never too busy to do those things”
Being the Facilities Chair is a big commitment, but I love it.
[T] What advice would you give Innis College students?
[MJ] Work hard, but keep your eyes and ears open as some of your greatest learning will not be from books!
Teodora Pasca is a second year Innis College student studying Criminology. Teodora is the Community Outreach Director on the Innis College Student Society, and she is a recipient of a Later Life Learning Scholarship.