Last week, students in the Valley Newsroom – which instructor Michael Epner calls “an adult education class on a graduate level” –  presented part of their tuition to three charities.

The current events class was previously offered through The Minderful Center, an adult-learning school founded in 2009 after the Scottsdale Community College Senior Adult Program closed. When the Valley Newsroom became an independent class last fall with its new name, students decided to use a percentage of the tuition ($12 per month) to donate to charity (the rest goes to pay rent for space at Mustang Library in Scottsdale and a small stipend for the teacher).

On May 14, the class presented three $1,000 checks to three nonprofit organizations: AzBrainfood, which provides a backpack of food to feed hungry schoolchildren on the weekends; Hospice of the Valley; and Veterans Transportation. “These are three very worthy charities,” said Epner, who packs lunches weekly for AzBrainfood as a volunteer.

Epner, a pediatrician who retired 13 years ago and served on the faculty of Stony Brook University and Yeshiva University’s Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, has taught the class for six years; before that, he attended the class as a student for about four years.

The average age of Valley Newsroom students is 70 years old, he says, and 90 percent are Jewish. Students include an international banker, lawyers and physicians and about 20-40 people attend each week (the numbers increase when winter visitors are in town). The class is conducted in a discussion format, and although Epner is prepared with 50 topics each week – he told Jewish News that he reads 25 newspapers every day to generate topics, even when the class isn’t in session – they usually end up only discussing three or four each week.

Michael Mehlman, who started attending the class when he retired about seven years ago, calls it a wonderful, stimulating class that has become like a family. “A lot of us have been together all these years,” he says, and it presents an interesting opportunity to talk about what’s going on around the world, as well as in the community and throughout the United States.

Epner selects the topics and “it’s a free-wheeling class,” Mehlman says. Recent topics have included the Affordable Care Act, the situation in the Ukraine and problems with banking institutions. Israel comes up almost every week, too, Epner said. Many of the students go to lunch together after class.

“It’s just a lot of fun,” Mehlman says, “and gives you the opportunity to use your brain.”

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