Neuroplasticity and Volunteering

Neuroplasticity and Volunteering: Engaging with Life (New iteration)

Amelia Barili

September 29-November 3, 2015 (current workshop)

at Osher Life-Long Learning Institute
UC Berkeley

Course Description

What does helping others have to do with the healthy, progressive functioning of our brains? In this class, we will study how volunteering (1-2 hours/week) with people from other cultures enriches our capacity for new learning. In addition to studying the science of neuroplasticity, we’ll participate in small-group discussions and meditation practices to expand our minds and hearts.

We will volunteer with one of these local organizations: English-in-Action, International House Host program, Refugee Transitions, and East Bay Sanctuary. This experiential learning will deepen our knowledge of ourselves and of other cultures, while helping international students, refugees, or immigrants in the challenging transition to American life. In each class we will have small group discussions where volunteers with the same organization will share their experiences and reflections for that week. Students will relate their volunteer experiences to what we are discussing in class through our readings, videos, and documentaries.   

This course has the format of a seminar. All students are invited to participate by preparing the assigned readings and videos, and by bringing notes on how these resonate with their own experiences. Everyone is encouraged to keep a private journal during the course with reflections on new perspectives and insights that arise from what we are learning about neuroplasticity and about volunteering. Students may choose particular readings or videos to present in teams of two or more to the class.

Among the learning goals of this course is for students to be able to explain in their own words what neuroplasticity is, and to know how to cultivate positive neuroplasticity in their daily lives, for example, at home, at work, and at the volunteer site. Also participants will discover the joy of volunteering and will be assisted all along the way in establishing the necessary contacts at one of these four NGOs, and in understanding and caring for the needs of the community they are working with. The commitment to volunteering 1-2 hours a week is only for the six weeks of the course, but many previous students have found the volunteer experience so rewarding that they have continued long after the course is over.

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Engaging with Life:

Volunteering and Neuroplasticity

Amelia Barili

September 30-November 4, 2014

Osher Life-Long Learning Institute
UC Berkeley

uc_berkeley_osher_lifelong_learning_institute_-_syllabus_engaging_with_life_volunteering_and_neuroplasticity_fall_2014_-_2015-04-06

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Each One Helps One:
Neuroplasticity in Action
Amelia Barili

September 30-November 4, 2014
Jan 28-March 4, 2014
Osher Life-Long Learning Institute
UC Berkeley

The focus of this workshop is how to cultivate neuroplasticity through volunteering.  Neuroplasticity naturally happens in interrelationships. The way we perceive, act and react, creates traits and tendencies, that naturally foster more of the same. These traits and tendencies affect the health not only of our brain and nervous system, but of our whole being.  There is positive and negative neuroplasticity. Scanning of the brain, for example, show very different pictures when the brain is at peace, than when is under continuous fear or stress. The good news is that we can mindfully cultivate positive neuroplasticity, by bringing our heart and mind into alignment in experiences of volunteering and seeing happiness of others while being helped. The volunteering experiences, those practical labs of cultivating positive neuroplasticity, will be complemented and enriched by our readings and videos on neuroplasticity,  our small- group discussions in class, and by meditation practices on expanding our minds and hearts. We will volunteer two hours a week with these local NGOs: the I-House Host Program, Refugee Transitions, and East Bay Sanctuary. The experiences  of volunteering will deepen your knowledge of other cultures by  helping international students, young refugees, or immigrants in their–often–difficult transition to American life.

Amelia Barili, a UC Berkeley faculty member, recognized the connection between students’ desire to serve others and the needs of the community. She has developed an innovative pedagogy that integrates the most recent findings of cognitive science and neurobiology with meditation and service learning. She received the Chancellor’s Award for Public Service in 2008.