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Chauncey’s Champion Someone making a difference.

I Spy: Kelli Barker serves CCU Lifelong Learners, area community

by Rebecca Cwalina Bookmark and Share
Kelli Barker is nominated for I Spy for the second time in five years.
Kelli Barker is nominated for I Spy for the second time in five years.

If you plan to spend some time with Kelli Barker, director of operations for the Myrtle Beach Education Center, wear some running shoes because she does not take a moment’s rest. From the time she wakes up in the morning until she goes to bed, she dedicates every minute to helping others, and she’ll do it all in teal accessories.

“I just think my calling in life is to help others, to give what I can,” Barker says. That was the most she wanted to say about herself. She had much more to say about others, especially those involved in CCU’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI), the CCU noncredit educational program, typically for older adults, which she oversees.

Despite being the one behind the scenes of the program, she makes the effort to get to know the students, a practice that is more rewarding than she has ever imagined.

“You have to talk with them one-on-one,” Barker says. “You could be the only person they talk to that day, and I’ll sit there all day. They’re such wonderful people with so much to say; if anything, it’s hard to leave them.”

Barker's people-oriented approach was evident during OLLI's recent “Free Week,” a period when current and prospective Lifelong Learners can take advantage of many free classes. It was clear that she loves what she does. She knew everyone who walked by her, and they were just as excited to see her as she was to see them.

Teachers for OLLI had nothing but positive things to say about her.

“She’s incredible. It’s already a rewarding program to be a part of, but getting to work with Kelli… she’s just so inspiring,” says Donna Carr, yoga teacher for OLLI for eight years.

Asking Barker to share her favorite story of the program proved to be difficult for her as many came to her mind. She decided to share the story that made her cry tears of joy the most. A few years ago, an 80-year-old woman decided to try out the OLLI program. She had recently lost her husband and wanted something to take her mind off of it. She decided to take a yoga class that had a mix of ages. It was a bit difficult for her, but the students rallied around her and cheered her on. She continued to go to that class just because of that support.

“I wasn’t kidding when I said this program gives so much. The instructors help students, but the students don’t know how much they help the instructors,” finishing the story with tears in her eyes.

Aside from the OLLI program, she also oversees a summer camp, CCU Kids Camp, for children ages 6 to 10. Her community service is remarkable as well. Barker serves on many different boards for Horry County, including the Horry County Disabilities and Special Needs, the Logistics Committee for the Celebration of Inquiry, Project Lighthouse and a Heart Walk team leader.

Barker’s spare time is dedicated to her family. She’s a proud new grandmother to her daughter’s son. She was eager to share pictures and stories of him. Her other daughter teaches in Turkey.

Her only son, Jordan, died in 2007 at 19 years old. She believes it’s good to talk about it and uses it as an opportunity to warn others to be careful with young people. She urges everyone to take the time to make sure that the people in their life are OK and on a good path.

After the loss, she began making jewelry. She and her mother went to a craft store and noticed how expensive it was. Beading became her form of therapy, and she makes special bracelets for people who have faced similar losses. She also makes the bracelets for ArtWorks to sell and gives the proceeds to Project Lighthouse, which is a safe haven for teens.

Related Photos

Kelli Barker is nominated for I Spy for the second time in five years. Osher Lifelong Learning Institute students sign up for fall classes. Kelli Barker checks in at the registration table during the fall Free Week. Barker, director of operations for the Myrtle Beach Education Center, loves her job.
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