Porch Discussion covers importance of attracting all ages


Jack Voelker speaks about intergenerational activities at Chautauqua during the Chautauqua Institution Trustees’ Porch Discussion, held Wednesday morning on the Hultquist Center porch. Voelker, director of the Department of Recreation and Youth Services, was joined by Sherra Babcock, director of the Department of Education. Photo by Ellie Haugsby.

Taylor Rogers | Staff Writer

Chautauqua offers many activities for youth and adults, but a certain age group is still looking for a place to connect.

These topics were at the center of the second weekly Trustees’ Porch Discussion on Wednesday. Sherra Babcock, director of Chautauqua’s Department of Education, and Jack Voelker, director of recreation and youth services, led the discussion, titled “Creating Family Experiences.”

Both Babcock and Voelker offered several examples of family-oriented events on the grounds, but they agreed the intergenerational experience has to revolve around individual activities as well as family activities.

“It’s as much about choice as it is anything else,” Voelker said.

The majority of families are one- to two-week visitors, so Voelker suggested the porch discussion should keep those families in mind, as well as season-long visitors.

Over the last 25 years, the Institution has added opportunities for adults and children to get involved. Voelker gave the example of the Family Entertainment Series, which offers free and interactive events every Tuesday, as well as lifetime sports, where children have the same opportunities as adults to take golf or tennis lessons.

But Voelker has worked at Chautauqua for 24 years, and he said youth activities aren’t new; they’ve simply grown.

Roughly 300 children attended Boys’ and Girls’ Club when Voelker first came to the Institution, he said. At last count, Club had 544 in attendance this season, reflecting the swelling presence of families and the importance of being something to everyone.

“That’s an awful lot of families obviously finding good reason to spend part of their summer at Chautauqua,” Voelker said.

Club breaks for two hours in the middle of the day. Voelker said this break is designed to allow families time to interact and share a meal.

“I think it’s one of the great tragedies of modern life that families don’t eat together,” he said.

Babcock, who is in her fifth season at the Institution, said the Department of Education works to draw in a younger audience with new Special Studies courses and the expansion of the Youth Scholars program from three weeks to six weeks.

“What we’re trying to do is design enough activities where every family can choose what it is that works for their family,” Babcock said.

The department placed Special Studies courses in the afternoon, so those who want to can attend both Club and the classes, Babcock said.

The Young Readers Program medallion also is a new addition to programming available for youth. Babcock said it rewards any child who reads 16 books of his or her choice from the Young Readers historic list, with one being Chautauqua: An American Utopia by Jeffrey Simpson.

The Young Readers Program also offers at least one classic that could act as a conversation piece among adults and youth, Voelker said.

But Babcock and Voelker agreed that it’s not always about having a formal program. Families should be able to create their own experience with the available resources.

Suggestions for improving the intergenerational experience revolved mostly around creating something for the 15 to 17 age range.

“For me, the challenge of Chautauqua has always been how to engage the 16-year-old and up,” said Lindy McKnight, from San Francisco.

McKnight and others suggested forming some non-academic programs, including a computer gaming club, for those who aren’t interested in taking a class.

The Trustee Porch Discussions are topical and held at 9:30 a.m. Wednesdays on the Hultquist Center porch.