On Thursdays the Gulfport Senior Center is packed with a masked crowd of more than 70, all holding dog-eared Italian language textbooks. It isn’t a college class – though there are many college-aged students in attendance – it’s the Italian American Society of St. Petersburg’s (IASOSP) seasonal free language class.
This is the program’s return since shuttering in March of 2020 due to the pandemic, and it will stretch from September until December at no cost each Thursday.
Membership to the IASOSP is $30, but not required.
“I’m going to relocate to Italy and work on dual citizenship,” said St. Petersburg resident Bonnie Worthen, who attended the class. “I’m here at the Senior Center all the time, so this class is helpful.”
How do they manage a free three-month course that models a university-style class?
“It can be a struggle,” said President Sharon Dante. “We pay the Senior Center $1,000 yearly, though the space used to be donated for free in the past…I would say we have about 98 members now.”
Dante rotates the presidency title with her husband, IASOSP Vice President Steve Dante, who mastered Italian at home in Pinellas County thanks to his Italian grandparents and a dedication to learning.
Both Dantes speak Italian, French, Spanish and English – which is twanged with a southern accent.
“If you do it the right way, you can move up,” Steve said. “Some people come for the social aspect of the club, and some people come to really learn.”
Each Thursday, there is a class from 6-7 p.m. and 7-8 p.m. at 5501 27th Ave S. Find textbook information and more here.