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The Elderhostel Story


The Dream

Many nonprofit organizations began as a gleam in the eye of one dreamer or a group of dreamers.

Elderhostel, the Boston-based educational travel organization for people over the age of 55, is an example.

In the 1970s, Marty Knowlton and David Bianco dreamed up Elderhostel. Knowlton, a former educator and social activist, loved to travel. He spent four years walking Europe with a backpack of essentials, spending most of his nights at youth hostels.

He was impressed with the hostel concept and also by the "folk schools" in Scandinavia where older adults engage in preserving their traditions such as folk art, music and dance.

Knowlton compared the vibrant roles older Europeans played in their communities to the American tradition of relatively inactive retirements.

Once back from his adventure, Knowlton shared his experiences with Bianco, then an administrator at the University of New Hampshire.

Bianco, in a burst of enthusiasm, said that his campus should not have a youth hostel, it should have an "elder hostel."

The Result

Together the two men conceived a program that would combine not-for-credit classes for older adults with comfortable and inexpensive housing.

The two men established Elderhostel as a nonprofit organization, and in the summer of 1975 five New Hampshire colleges and universities offered the first Elderhostel programs to 220 adventurous and pioneering participants.

By 1980, more than 20,000 people were taking programs all over the U.S. and in Canada. In 1981, Elderhostel offered its first international programs.

Today, Elderhostel is one of the leading providers of educational travel to adults 55 and over with nearly 8,000 programs annually in some 90 countries, bringing pleasure and adventure to thousands of older travelers who refuse to retire to the beach or cabana.

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