Lots of people learned how to tell jokes, weld, repair engines, jump-start their careers and gain confidence.
LEWISTON – Leonard Kimble absolutely killed it on comedy night at She Doesn’t Like Guthries.
First, he hilariously outlined a list of locker room rules for men, and the crowd roared. Segued into a bit about Bill Cosby and the audience went nuts. Went edgy with a few quips about interracial marriage and the laughter was thunderous.
Leonard Kimble was an undisputed hit. It’s hard to believe that everything he knows about stand-up comedy he learned in adult ed.
“It was sort of a bucket list item,” the 44-year-old bank IT manager said the night of the show. “I saw an ad for the class on Facebook and I thought, ‘OK. I’ll give that a try.'”
Adrien Boudreau was of a similar mind when he signed up for the comedy class through Lewiston Adult Education. The 41-year-old data analyst wasn’t looking for a new career. He just wanted to expand a bit and tell some jokes.
“I think there’s a certain point in your life where you see where you’re at and you think – OK, I’m there. Maybe I need to try some different stuff,” Boudreau said, a few minutes before taking the stage at Guthries. “I guess part of it for me was pushing the comfort zone. This definitely does that.”
Bucket lists? Comfort zones? If ever there was a place to address those kinds of self-fulfillment needs, adult education is it. By forking over a few bucks and carving out a couple of hours each week, anyone, young or old can learn how to swing dance. Or pick berries. Or can salsa, buy an electric car, utilize the healing power of crystals, master the Android tablet or discover a thousand uses for essential oils.
If you can imagine a hobby, pastime or goofy playtime indulgence, there is probably an adult education class on the subject. And if there’s not, the people who run those classes would be willing to consider it.
“We’ll give it a try,” says Mike Reagan, education and marketing coordinator for Lewiston Adult Education, “and see what sticks.”
TEACH A MAN TO FISH . . .
But here’s an interesting thing about adult ed. While Kimble and Boudreau were basically just expanding their horizons in Dawn Hartill’s six-week stand-up comedy class, in other parts of the program, there are plenty of people who are out to transform their lives in more substantial ways.
Gloria Barker’s CNA class, for instance, is where students will study for eight hours over two nights a week while also volunteering for long shifts at area nursing homes. These students – often young mothers, but not always – aren’t cramming all week just for personal enrichment. They’re out to change their lives.
“Some of them have never worked an actual job,” Barker says. “If they did, it was a dead-end kind of job.”
And consider Jason Merritt’s construction training class, run in conjunction with the Lewiston CareerCenter, which draws asylum seekers looking to settle in as well as locals who want careers in construction.
“I need a full-time job,” said 28-year-old Alex Clark, who had been working mostly retail jobs for low pay while trying to support a wife and a 9-year-old son. “You can’t get by on minimum wage anymore. I’m trying to get something more solid – some real education and real certification instead of just laborer experience.”
The construction class essentially gives the students everything they need to land a job. The school provides tools, boots, tape measures and pretty much whatever else is needed on a work site. But before they start swinging hammers and sawing boards, the students are working in the classroom, learning about concepts like punctuality, teamwork, communication skills and the finer points of managing paperwork.
“Instead of hand tools, they were giving us mind tools,” Clark said. “And now we’re learning how to use all those tools together. It’s such a great opportunity.”
The students in Merritt’s class are also linked up with local contractors for on-the-job training. Some of those connections are expected to turn into full-time jobs once the students’ have completed the class.
Drew Brown, a 29-year-old from North Monmouth, certainly hopes it goes that way. He learned about Merritt’s class through a CareerCenter flier and decided it was exactly what he needed.
“I’ve been painting beside my dad for 20 years,” Brown said. “It’s pretty much all I’ve done, working for the family. I wanted to do something more. And I’m really happy I did this. It’s probably the best thing I’ve ever done.”
A person could change their life through adult education, or they could just do enough to push their boundaries and get out of the house one night a week.
There are a number of classes on the schedule that sort of fall in between those two extremes. Mike Cyr’s welding course, for example. It’s a class Cyr has been teaching for 15 years and he’s seen it go both ways.
“I’ve had an 89-year-old man take the class just because he was curious and I’ve had teenagers coming in,” Cyr said. “It’s both men and women. If it’s not that they want to get into the trade, it’s for hobbying, garage work or metal art.”
And Richard Hussey’s small engine repair class. Not everyone who signs up is looking to open a repair business or to make a radical career change. Some of them just want to tinker, like 72-year-old Ruben Cornelius, who likes Hussey’s class so much, he’s been taking it for 30 years.
Cornelius likes to work on rototillers, lawnmowers, snowblowers – anything, really – that people throw away because they don’t work anymore. He prefers to have expert supervision looking over his shoulder because he hasn’t learned everything yet and he wants to do things right.
“That’s the reason I keep taking this class,” he said. “You never know what you’re going to run into. Regardless of how good you are, you’re always going to see something that you haven’t seen before.”
SOME CLASS ACTS
Sometimes people suggest potential class topics to Reagan and he explores the idea. Sometimes he thinks of topics of study on his own and goes searching for someone to teach the class. His instincts are usually right on, Reagan says, although sometimes it’s a swing and a miss.
Such was the case when he thought people might be interested in a class on Lyme disease. It turns out, they weren’t.
“I’ll think, what can I come up with to bring people in after they’ve had a long day at work?” Reagan explained. “It turns out that a course on a tick-borne disease isn’t it.”
One woman has been hounding Reagan to set up a course on the art of feng shui and he’s looking into it. Another wants to see a ukulele class and that will probably happen, too.
But the best class subject in the world, Reagan said, isn’t going to be a success if you don’t find the right person to teach it. Lewiston’s adult education program is blessed, he insists, because the instructors have a passion for it. Like the students, the men and women who teach adult ed are there because they want to be.
Barker, who has been teaching the CNA course for nine years, does it because she knows what it’s like struggling to get away from menial jobs and into something more meaningful. Before she became a nurse, she worked a variety of jobs, including retail and mill work, that left her unfulfilled. Going into nursing, she said, changed her life.
“You come home tired at the end of the day, but you know you’ve done something to help people,” Barker said. “I really enjoy getting people started in this profession. It makes me feel proud when I can help with that.”
Cyr, the welder, works all day and then, on Tuesday nights, goes to the high school to spend another three hours teaching the craft to others.
“I like it,” he says. “I like meeting new people – people who are eager to learn. This isn’t like work to them. They’re here because they want to be. They want to learn and that is very satisfying to me. I get to share my knowledge with them, and that’s pretty cool.”
Bill Hensley is a technology support specialist with the Lewiston school system. He’s not a teacher, he works with computers and such. But a couple years ago, he got real interested in electric cars because he wanted to by one. He researched. He studied the differences between various models. He began shopping around and before long, he had not one, but two electric cars.
Ding! Wouldn’t that make a great adult ed class?
“Mike Reagan approached me before Christmas and wanted to know if I’d be interested in teaching a class,” Hensley said. “I guess I’m the resident go-to guy on electric cars.”
Hensley taught a one-day course, passing along what he’d learned about the history of electric cars, the matter of at-home and on-the-road charging, maintenance and the finer points of buying, including matters like tax credits, leases and incentives.
“I’d never done anything like that before,” Hensley said. “I really enjoyed it.”
So much so that he plans to teach another class on the subject in the fall.
A FUNNY THING HAPPENED IN ADULT ED TODAY
And then there’s Dawn Hartill, the local stand-up comic who so effectively taught a class on the craft that eight students were able to get up before a full house at Guthries and tell their jokes.
“It’s way harder than it looks on Comedy Central,” Hartill said. “People see Dave Chappelle get up there and they think he’s just talking off the top of his head. I explain to them that, no. He’s been working on that for two years.”
Hartill was a natural to teach the course. Not only is she a popular comic who performs at dozens of shows each year, but she’s a longtime fan of adult ed. She’s taken various craft courses through the program and plans on taking another to learn about fermenting vegetables.
And of course, three years ago, she took a stand-up comedy class when someone else was teaching it. She’s been performing as often as any local comedian since.
For Reagan, it was another “ding!” moment.
“Mike reached out and asked if I’d be interested in teaching the class,” Hartill said. “I honestly thought nobody would sign up because I wasn’t as much a professional as the person they had teaching prior. But to my surprise, the class filled up. On day one, we had 12 students.”
Just about all of the men and women teaching adult ed are also working full-time jobs separate from the teaching gig. Hartill is no exception there – she has the full-time job at a bank, a part-time job on weekends and a family back at home.
Hartill is busy, sure enough. But like the others, she has no regrets about going to class each week to share her passion with others.
“I think for a lot of people who teach adult ed, it’s just a hobby that they love and they want to share it with people,” she said. “It’s a great avenue for doing that. You kind of just show up and share all your ideas.”
Take a course
Many schools systems have adult education programs. Check with your local school district for classes and schedules.
In Lewiston-Auburn, contact:
— Lewiston Adult Ed online at lewiston.maineadulted.org and at 207-795-4141
— Auburn Adult Ed online at auburn.maineadulted.org and at 207-333-6661