To meet the needs of older adults despite the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, OLLI, the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at UNC Asheville, is offering its members more than 50 College for Seniors courses, all online, and offering the community – members and non-members alike – a series of online special programs this fall.
The ability to do that has come from OLLI members’ gaining and sharing of tech skills, and most of all, by their desire to stay connected despite the safety necessity that older adults especially have for physical distance. “Staff and volunteers have been working since March to offer the best of OLLI online. With just a little help, OLLI members have embraced online classrooms,” said OLLI Executive Director Catherine Frank.
“They have learned to teach courses, record videos, and meet in small groups for everything from meditation to beer tasting. Many say that they love being able to see people’s faces rather than the backs of their heads, to have a front row seat to focus on presentation slides, and to adjust the temperature and sound to their liking. Members who are traveling can log in to a class, and no one has to commute or park. Many instructors open class in a virtual ‘lobby’ where people can chat before a class and breakout rooms which allow for small group discussions during class. We all look forward to being able to gather face-to-face, but we are grateful that technology allows us to stay together apart,” said Frank.
OLLI’s renowned College for Seniors, with no grades or tests, is taught by volunteer instructors, many of whom retired from prestigious positions in academia, business and professions. Fall courses will run from Sept. 21-Nov. 13, and cover a myriad of topics, from Bare Bones Anthropology to Examining the Grateful Dead 1971-1977, from Evangelicalism in America to Virtual Sneaker Tap Dance, from The Science of Sleep to Discovering India. OLLI membership, available for $25, is required, along with a $115 College for Seniors enrollment fee (some scholarships are available). Registration information and the course catalog is available at olliasheville.com/college-seniors.
OLLI’s 34th annual Leadership Asheville Seniors program also will be all-online this year, and will reflect on the theme, Asheville’s Resilience: Adapting to a Changing World. The program will run for nine weeks, beginning with orientation on Sept. 7 and ending with graduation on Nov. 10. Leadership Asheville Seniors provides newcomers and longtime residents alike with a multifaceted view of Asheville and Buncombe County through discussions with community leaders in distinctive venues. OLLI membership is required and the fee for the program is $100 (some scholarships are available for up to 50% of the cost of the program). Registration details are available at olliasheville.com/las.
OLLI’s free programs, open to members and non-members alike, also will be online this year, and will include the 11:30 a.m. Fab Friday lecture series, offering information on the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation, the habits of black bears, and on Nov. 6, post-election analysis with area political scientists and journalists. OLLI also has scheduled a series of webinars bringing together community leaders to discuss racial inequities in different aspects of local life – these are also online, free and open to everyone. More information on these free programs will be posted at olliasheville.com/special-programs.
Frank extends a special invitation to people who haven’t before been involved with OLLI to sample a class or a free workshop, especially if they are separated from family and loved ones. “Recent research has shown that feelings of social isolation and loneliness can have an impact on our health, some say an impact as severe as smoking, obesity, and physical inactivity,” said Frank. “Social isolation has been linked to increased risk of dementia, heart disease and stroke, depression, anxiety, and suicide. OLLI has been a lifeline for many people, offering not just opportunities to learn but to connect with people who share their intellectual curiosity. Now that we are all staying home and staying apart to protect our health, OLLI’s online courses, workshops, and special events, offer a way to connect, maintain, and create new friendships.”
For more information about OLLI, visit olliasheville.com.