Meet Eileen E. Mitchell - by Beth Timson
It’s fun and it’s great comradeship. It’s probably the best way to make new friends. October 2016
Eileen says that she can almost claim to be a Durham native, since she has lived here for forty years; she and her husband moved here for his job at IBM. She had moved around a lot more before coming here, with her husband’s job in the US Marine Corps. Once she settled in Durham, Eileen took a post as a librarian in an elementary school in Person County.
Eileen got introduced to OLLI through a wine tour in 2008. Her husband had retired and had heard from friends about classes in the Duke Institute for Learning in Retirement (DILR). He was having fun with classes and signed Eileen up for membership so they could tour the growing number of wineries in the Yadkin Valley together. She retired from her position in 2009, got into classes, and has been with OLLI ever since. She has taken many classes and has even taught one herself on the art of storytelling. Good storytelling is a trained skill, one she mastered working with her elementary school students; she especially likes to dip into her repertoire of Celtic stories and legends.
She became an OLLI volunteer in response to a request from the Membership Committee: “They said they needed help, and this was just something I could do. I had already worked as a Class Assistant before.” For over five years now, Eileen has been a key member of the committee that organizes all the social and entertainment events for OLLI members.
What sorts of work does she do as a volunteer, she was asked? She laughed and said, “We’re busy all year!” She helps to arrange the Meet and Greet events for new members (one before every term); she herself works on meeting set-up and group icebreakers, though she notes that other Membership Committee members handle sign ins and campus tours and act as greeters. This past year, Eileen was also part of the group that produced the very well-received new member information packet.
The Membership Committee also works toward offering OLLI members at least one activity or outing per month – from Durham events like Bulls’ games, picnics, the holiday luncheon, and DPAC group tickets to short trips like a recent visit to the Civil Rights Museum in Greensboro. Summer events are particularly popular, when OLLI members are missing the friendly interactions of regular classes. Eileen notes that the committee both takes requests from members and also comes up with its own ideas for activities. Typically, each member is responsible for one activity; as a docent at the Duke Chapel, Eileen is taking a group there in December.
Sounds like a lot of work? “Oh, it’s like the old story about eating an elephant,” she says; “everyone takes a part, so no one person ever feels burdened.” She goes on to add, “Of course, it involves some work, but these are interesting things to do—planning and setting up events. You’re not just ‘running the coffee machine’ for someone else.”
Would Eileen recommend the Membership Committee for other interested OLLI members? “Yes, sure!” she says. “It’s a pretty stable committee, so we’ve been working together a long time. It’s fun and it’s great comradeship. It’s probably the best way to make new friends.”