For more than 14 years, Steve Boga has been espousing the value of memoir writing in classes to Sonoma County senior citizens.
The message has been received. After Santa Rosa Junior College canceled its older-adult education program for this summer, Boga's students pulled out their wallets to raise $1,300 for each of the three 10-week classes he would normally have taught them for free.
"The only difference is we lost some students who were marginal anyhow," Boga said.
Such positive outcomes seemed very much in doubt in April when SRJC officials revealed they were cutting all 83 classes in the older-adult program, which provides courses at sites across the county.
Scores of teachers and seniors showed up at the subsequent meeting of the board of trustees, pleading for jobs for teachers and a vital source of socialization and stimulation for the county's older students.
Besides, they said, the program already had suffered enough, getting slashed from more than 300 classes two years earlier to 83 going into the summer.
College officials, though, said that in tight times, they had to focus on the school's core mission of university preparation and vocational skills.
But despite the loss of funding, the cuts haven't been as devastating as some feared.
College officials recently contacted people connected with 55 of the 83 cut classes. In two-thirds of the cases, the courses were continuing in some fashion through alternative arrangements, including volunteer teachers, student payments and fees provided by the host institution, including senior centers.
At the Russian River Senior Resource Center, a teacher no longer comes each week to teach water colors, but the center continues to offer space to her former students who help each other.
On Tuesday, a dozen of them sat round a large table, quietly painting. Beginners tend to miss the teacher most while more advanced painters, like Nonie Mitchell, 66, seemed just as happy with more time to work without an instructor.
Still, Mitchell said she disapproved of the college taking away support for the class and for seniors.
"Just because we've adapted doesn't mean it's right," she said, working on a still life of a fruit platter. "It just means we refused to let it stop us."
The reductions have been harder for others to overcome. Some teachers remain out of work. Some students can't afford classes they must now pay for. And some locations have not been able to provide substitute offerings.
Southwest Adult Day Services, which provides care to elderly and disabled adults, is still feeling the affects of losing the college's art, music and current events teachers in cuts to the older adult program last year.
Typically, for example, the center submits 24 paintings to the upcoming Sonoma County Fair. But this year they're showing just half that, a reflection of fewer painting opportunities that have reduced quality of life for clients, said Marie Hammack, activity coordinator for Southwest.
"A lot of people have resorted back to just coloring," she said.
The elimination of the summer older adult program comes as the county gets grayer. Sonoma County residents who are 60 and older now comprise 20 percent of the county population, according to 2010 census data. The age group was 16.2 percent of the population 10 years ago.
Read all of the PD's fire coverage here