The Bernard Osher Foundation has awarded a $65,000 grant to UCSC Lifelong Learners and will give a like amount to the group next year.

These grants will enable UCSC Lifelong Learners, now celebrating its 25th year, to make its successful program of lectures, courses, and interest groups available to a wider audience. It plans to increase its membership to 500 (from its current level of 400) and to expand its program. If it is successful, Lifelong Learners will become eligible for a permanent Osher endowment of $1 million.

"The grant and the chance to secure a permanent source of funding open up some very exciting opportunities for us," said Robert Franson, Lifelong Learners president. "We will be able to expand our program, develop new courses and discussion groups, and reach more people."

The Bernard Osher Foundation, headquartered in San Francisco, was founded in 1977 by Bernard Osher, a successful businessman and philanthropist.

With the receipt of the grant, UCSC Lifelong Learners becomes the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at UC Santa Cruz, joining a growing national network of Osher-sponsored institutes for older adults operating on the campuses of 119 colleges and universities in the United States. Six of the 10 UC campuses and 16 of the 23 California State Universities host Osher institutes.

UCSC Lifelong Learners, begun in 1984, is a community of men and women from diverse educational, occupational, and geographic backgrounds who are devoted to the pursuit of learning. Members enjoy shared campus experiences, spirited discussion, reading, and exploring new interests.

The group offers monthly meetings and lectures, several university-level short courses designed for mature adults, and 28 peer-led interest groups on subjects including creative writing, digital photography, books, philosophy, and dining out. Membership fees are used, after expenses, to fund scholarships for re-entry students to UCSC.

UCSC Emeritus professor John Dizikes, who has offered short courses for Lifelong Learners for a number of years, feels that the organization offers the perfect environment for teaching. It allows the teacher to have "a conversation with students," where there can be an interchange that is not based on grades, credits, or other academic considerations. He has found it very satisfying to teach in an environment where the only basis for being present is to learn.

Lifelong Learners is valuable because of the social opportunities it provides, said Jim Faris, 91, a founding member of the group.

"It's also important for stimulating the brain cells and continuing to learn, continuing to be interested in what's going on in life," said Faris, who worked as a film editor in Hollywood for 40 years and has run a film interest group for Lifelong Learners with his wife, Paula, for 19 years.

They've screened films including Doubt, Dangerous Beauty, Chinatown, and Waking Ned Devine. Afterward the members discuss issues brought up in the films.

"Learning, to me, is a process that's never-ending," Faris said.

To join UCSC Lifelong Learners, visit the group's website.