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HistoryALP's beginnings are intertwined with a growing awareness in the 1980's that many retirees had a thirst for continuing to learn and travel.
Elderhostel followed the model of youth hostels which offered safe, inexpensive lodgings throughout Europe and attracted mostly young travelers. The Elderhostel founders wondered why not apply a similar model of inexpensive lodgings to encourage travel and provide learning opportunities for older citizens in America? They saw a new use for university campuses with empty dormitory rooms and facilities during summer months.
A growing number of schools implemented learning programs on their campuses and housed participants in unused dormitory rooms. News of these summer programs was originally spread almost entirely by word-of-mouth and by 1980 more than 20,000 senior citizens participated in them at academic institutions across all 50 states and most Canadian provinces.
The logical extension of the Elderhostel one-week residential programs was the formation of non-residential Learning in Retirement Institutes in local communities. These institutes were to be managed by the participants themselves with guidance from a sponsoring academic institution. A common characteristic of local institutes was a belief in the importance of keeping minds active throughout life. Sharing the learning process with others and emphasizing member-led courses were their objectives.
In the late 1980's in the Hartford Connecticut area, Elderhostel hosted meetings at both the Duncaster Retirement Community and the Hartford Graduate Center to explore the possibility of forming a local program here. About a hundred people attended and responded positively. These pioneers of the movement in Hartford decided to call themselves The Adult Learning Program and named their associated newsletter the Alp-Horn. Several committees were promptly formed to select and organize courses to be offered. The first set of courses under the ALP banner were given in the spring of 1989. Among the earliest offerings were Short Stories and Opera, taught by ALP members.
In addition to the national endorsement by Elderhostel, local sponsorship was provided by The Greater Hartford Consortium for Higher Education. Ruth Billyou was the Consortium's Executive Director and provided staff support for ALP in the early days, augmented by a dedicated group of volunteers. Meetings were held at several locations but most often at the Hartford Graduate Center which had a convenient cafeteria for scheduled gatherings and informal discussions with the added benefit of plenty of parking.
In the early 1990's, meetings of ALP were moved to the former Hartford College for Women on Asylum Avenue in Hartford where The Greater Hartford Consortium for Higher Education was also housed. ALP courses had between three and five sessions and were usually taught by its members interspersed with an occasional guest academician. Video/DVD presentations came later as that technology developed. Single sessions were added still later and included more visiting lecturers, often drawn from active and retired faculty at local institutions as well as community leaders.
For the first dozen years of ALP, there was a winter term in addition to the fall and spring terms. A specific theme was chosen and many presentations tied into the theme and were given in intensive week-long meetings. The winter term was held at South Congregational Church on Main Street in Hartford and concluded with a potluck lunch. An Annual Meeting in June was instituted and also held there.
When the University of Hartford took over the campus of Hartford College for Women, ALP migrated to the Hamilton Heights Retirement Community, former home of St. Joseph Academy, and later the Conference Center of The Hartford Insurance Company. After a few years of growth, Hamilton Heights could no longer accommodate ALP, so classes moved to the Emanuel Synagogue in West Hartford for a year before relocating in the year 2000 to the Seabury Retirement Community in Bloomfield, our present home. Simultaneously the sponsorship of ALP changed to the University of Connecticut.
Over the years, ALP membership grew to its present size of approximately 250 and the curriculum expanded until it was necessary to limit it to a maximum of 20 courses and 20 single sessions. The Duncaster Retirement Community in Bloomfield also now hosts some ALP courses.
Today, ALP is proud to be an independent non-profit organization. We continue as one of the Elderhostel/Road Scholar network of 400 Institutes for Learning in Retirement and we value our local affiliation with the University of Connecticut.