Written by Janet Gillow, director of the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Washington University in St. Louis
The Harvey A. Friedman Center for Aging at the Institute for Public Health illuminates campus organizations that provide valuable programming to our region’s aging population. One such WashU entity is the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI), a membership organization of adults aged 50+ who convene for non-credit courses, special interest discussion groups, creative writing, lectures and social events.
Like many organizations serving older adults during the COVID-19 pandemic, OLLI needed to find ways to innovate operations. In doing so, and for their exemplary service to the community, two OLLI supporters–former Advisory Committee Chair, Dr. Stephen Radinsky, and Administrative Assistant, Denise Zona–were recently honored by the Missouri House of Representatives for their service to older adults in the St. Louis region, and for their resourcefulness in preserving stimulating activities and social connection during trying times.
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, all programs were offered at OLLI’s West Washington University Campus. In March of 2020, with older adults particularly vulnerable to illness, program organizers had no choice but to temporarily shutter its physical location. During those first days of fear and isolation more than ever, OLLI members felt the importance of their learning community. Within a few weeks, Zoom classes were open for business. Even members who had previously resisted email were participating in digital learning.
You can’t over-estimate the role that OLLI plays in the lives of our members, especially during the dark days of the pandemic. Most of us were unfamiliar with [Zoom] technology, but we learned quickly. We were so happy learning and interacting with our friends. It was really a group effort that moved us forward. OLLI was a blessing to us.Steve Radinsky
Denise Zona added, “Once vaccination became widely available, the OLLI team began providing hybrid options for members to choose whether to participate in their classes in-person or online. [Now] we offer classes that are in-person, on Zoom, or hybrid format. There’s something for everyone based on what feels safe and convenient for their particular situation.”
OLLI membership is open to curious learners age 50+. No previous Washington University affiliation is required. Registration for Fall 2022 programs opens August 30. Learn more at osher.wustl.edu.