Living Here Guide

June 25, 2014

10 activities to improve yourself – and the Columbia community

Want to go back to school? Take up a hobby? Volunteer at a local shelter? Opportunities to better yourself – and the community – are numerous.

Train your brain. Midlands Technical College offers a slew of classes for those who want to take up a new hobby or enhance their job skills. Most night classes are held at the Harbison and Northeast campuses. Cost ranges from $50 for quilt-making to $1,500 for a network security class.

Learn to play an instrument. The Columbia Arts Academy – now in Lexington, too – bills itself as the largest private music school in the state. It offers 30-minute classes in guitar, piano, drums, banjo, mandolin, ukulele and voice. Here’s the cool thing: They’re open seven days a week, early until late, and they teach all styles, from rock to country and classical. or (803) 787-0931.

Growing a garden: Make Columbia a more beautiful place by becoming a master gardener. The Clemson Extension Service provides the 14-week course as an intensive introduction to horticulture, taught by specialists. It’s basic botany with an element of community service. At the end, you’re expected to donate 40 hours of work. The program starts in September in Richland County, January in Lexington County. For more on the Richland County program: Jackie Jordan, or (803) 865-1216, ext. 116; Lexington County, Vicky Bertagnolli, or (803) 359-8515, ext. 127.

Volunteer: If you want a meaningful way to help your community but don’t know where you’re needed, here’s one suggestion: an AARP website called It allows you to pop in your ZIP code to access a directory of volunteer jobs (866-389-5655; ask for Teresa). The United Way matches volunteers with projects at, a site that includes the United Way’s bread and butter – health and human services groups – as well as nonmember agencies, one-time opportunities and regular commitments.

The great outdoors: If you’d like to go canoeing or hiking with a group, check out the Columbia Outdoor Adventure Network. It’s one of the largest “meet up” groups in the Midlands, with members who organize all kinds of outings.

Language barrier: Become a citizen of the world through language. The University of South Carolina offers foreign language courses to the public through its “extended university” program. Choose from Chinese, Spanish, Italian, French, German and Arabic. Classes meet two nights a week to four days a week.(803) 777-8155

Explore your roots: The Richland Library is the best place to get going on genealogical research. The staff of the local history room offers one-on-one assistance, providing packets with charts on how to get started. Once you gather information, they’ll help you draw out a family tree. (803) 929-3402

Finding serenity: Sometimes serenity can be found in a quiet pew close to home or in the peaceful Taize services offered at many Midlands churches, based on the contemplative services that emerged out of the monastic community of Taize, France. Sometimes it can be found in the simple walking of a labyrinth. At Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary, a permanent outdoor labyrinth, based on the 13th century labyrinth at the Chartres cathedral, was constructed in 2001 and is available for contemplative walking and prayer.

Find your Upward-Facing Dog: Yoga has caught on like wildfire in Columbia. Places like Gold's Gym and other large facilities offer a variety of classes to appeal to devotees of certain styles of yoga. Smaller yoga studios have popped up all over the Midlands offering low-impact classes of Hatha yoga to mid-range practices such as Vinyasa, which tie poses to the breath, and Ashtanga or Power Yoga which offers a sweaty, intense workout.

Day tripper: South Carolina has a lot to offer in history, culture, architecture and natural beauty. It can almost be overwhelming. If you want to set about seeing the state, a S.C. Parks, Recreation and Tourism website — — lays out well-researched suggestions.

Dawn Hinshaw, Carolyn Click

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