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New adult program to launch in Blue Ridge

2021-01-08-PEAKS speakers
Dr. Westina Matthews, Rosann Kent and Reverend Dr. Cynthia Park will be the inaugural speakers for the Personal Enrichment, Action and Knowledge Series (PEAKS). UNG's Institute for Healthy Aging, College of Education's Appalachian Studies Center and the Blue Ridge Campus created PEAKS, which is a monthly program of engaging and seasonally connected presentations designed to meet the needs of the region's rapidly growing older adult community. (Photo of Matthews from University of Dayton)

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, some 45% of Fannin County's population is 55 and older. Projections from the Governor's Office of Planning and Budget put that number at 55% by 2030.

As the University of North Georgia's (UNG) director of the Institute for Healthy Aging, Dr. Pamela Elfenbein understands the benefits of engaging with that population group through activities and educational opportunities and tapping into their wisdom.

As the director of UNG's Blue Ridge Campus, Sandy Ott knows the new stand-alone campus in Fannin can facilitate those opportunities while providing a place for the community to connect with UNG.

Both women have joined forces along with the College of Education's Appalachian Studies Center to create a Personal Enrichment, Action and Knowledge Series (PEAKS) for the seniors of Fannin County and the UNG region. The collaborative endeavor will be a monthly program of engaging and seasonally connected presentations designed to meet the needs of the region's rapidly growing older adult community.

"PEAKS will establish UNG as the region's premier resource for personal enrichment, action and knowledge for older adults," Elfenbein said. "We envision it as a first step to a future lifelong learning program, much larger in scope and reach."

Ott agreed with Elfenbein's assessment.

"UNG can provide a much-needed and desired resource for educational opportunities and enrichment for the largest population," Ott said. "We are already engaged with our high schools. Now, this is another area to grow and expand our services and programs."

The PEAKS program will launch its first series virtually to allow for broad participation throughout UNG's service region. All events will be streamed from or held live on the Blue Ridge Campus.

The inaugural presentation will feature internationally acclaimed speaker and author Dr. Westina Matthews at 7 p.m. Jan. 21. Her recent book, "Dancing from the Inside Out," was chosen as her message speaks of both difficult times and a life well lived.

"She has a great story to tell," Elfenbein said. 

The second speaker will be Reverend Dr. Cynthia Park, who is a spiritual leader, renowned linguist, and counselor. She will speak on Feb. 18.

Since 2014, Park has been the associate rector for ministries of compassion at Grace Episcopal Church in Gainesville, Georgia. Elfenbein said she heard Park speak at another event and took home a valuable lesson.

"I learned to reframe my stories," she said. "It helped improve my quality of life."

The third and final speaker will be Rosann Kent on March 18. As director of UNG's Center for Appalachian Studies, she will share the topic of "Appalachian Folklore: Planting by the Signs."

"People who are 55 and older will find these topics interesting and meaningful," Elfenbein said. "And they will have opportunity for reflection on them."

Future program topics will explore the interest and focus of the region, including regional history and outdoor active learning opportunities to engage the target audience of the 55-and-older community.

Ott anticipates a good response from the Blue Ridge community and beyond.

"I'm looking forward to having the virtual program as well as the face-to-face program on the new campus to let individuals who wouldn't normally step foot on campus have a chance to be engaged and feel like a part of UNG's Blue Ridge Campus," Ott said.

Register for the virtual events at PEAKS@ung.edu.

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