A correctional officer at the maximum-security prison opened a cell door and asked Betty Carp if she would like to step inside. The 77-year-old Pikesville woman found herself in a small room with a cot and television set. On the wall was a bulletin board filled with pictures and a hand-lettered note from a little boy which read, "We Miss You Daddy."
The prison tour was "fantastic," Mrs. Carp says of the memorable field trip arranged by the warden who was teaching a course in crime and punishment that she was taking.
"It was very emotionally draining," she added. "The room closes in on you."
This was only one of many "absolutely wonderful" learning experiences she has had since she retired as a Baltimore city school teacher at age 64. For much of that time, she has been active in Elderhostel, a non-profit organization which sponsors educational programs for older adults at colleges and universities throughout the world.
Through Elderhostel, people over the age of 60 can enjoy a bit of college life during week-long residential programs which include room, board, classes and lots of social activities. Limited space is available for commuters.
Courses are taught by university faculty at 1,500 locations in the United States alone. In the Maryland and District of Columbia area, 26 schools participate in Elderhostel. Programs are even held at several of the larger hotels in Ocean City throughout the winter months.
About 225,000 people have attended Elderhostel programs this year, according to Niccola Bojanowski, director of the Maryland/D.C. regional office of the organization. Maryland alone has more than 12,000 participants, she added.
Most "Elderhostelers" combine their educational experience with travel by registering for programs outside of their home state. Mrs. Carp has traveled to Tucson to study genealogy and visit her granddaughter. Elderhostel has also taken her sightseeing in New York City and to dinner in the home of a Mennonite family.
The cost for each program ranges from $280 to $340, including six-night accommodations, meals, classes, extracurricular activities and registration fees. Participants must arrange their own transportation to the site. There are also "hostelships" -- Elderhostel scholarships -- available for individuals who would otherwise be financially unable to attend.
Courses are held year-round and catalogs are published seasonally. This summer, Elderhostel programs in Maryland will be held at Loyola College, Salisbury State University, Towson State University, Hood College and Frostburg State University.
For registration and catalog information, write to ELDERHOSTEL, 75 Federal St., Boston, Mass., 02110-1941 or call (617) 426-8056. For further information about Elderhostel, contact the Maryland/D.C. regional office at (410) 830-3437.