Bloom Where Planted

OLLI @UGA remains strong during pandemic

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit Athens in March, the University of Georgia’s closure of in-person classes, lectures and activities required more than 1200 older adult learners in OLLI@UGA to adapt to new technology, a high-learning curve for many retirees.

OLLI@UGA, one of 124 institutes in the national Osher Lifelong Learning Institute network, is comprises adults 50 and older, with the majority in the most COVID-vulnerable risk group above 65. For a program whose face-to-face format is known for strengthening relationships vital to members’ mental and social well-being, the shutdown was potentially devastating.

OLLI@UGA executive director Tim Meehan and his staff moved quickly to help the volunteer instructors transfer upcoming courses to an online format.
“We spent all of spring break anticipating a shutdown to start Zoom classes,” said Meehan. “We were prepared to keep our members safe by producing socially distanced programming.”

Some of the hands-on classes that involved cooking or handling geological specimens, as well as social groups like the hikers and pétanque players, didn’t translate well into a virtual format and were cancelled. Other classes were paused to give staff and instructors time to adapt.

When they decided to extend Zoom classes into the summer and fall semesters, OLLI@UGA staff began helping the presenters and participants get comfortable with Zoom video conferencing.

“It’s not quite the same as being in person, but allows our members to keep in touch with each other while keeping their minds stimulated,” Meehan said.

Rosemary Woodell, like most of her OLLI friends, endured two major wars, social unrest and a polio epidemic. Woodell believes that one should “bloom where you’re planted,” so she adapted quickly to the change and leaned into the new format. She misses going to classes at River’s Crossing, Rosemary but says that, “The fact that we can have Zoom classes is such a blessing. It’s a bonus to see (friends’) faces and hear their voices.”
Meehan and his team modified around 270 classes to 150 across both halves of the fall semester. Some of the special interest groups like the Memoir Writing Group have strengthened their memberships.

Spring online classes begin in February. Meehan plans to move the program forward with a safe return to River’s Crossing later in 2021. Learn more »

Tracy Coley
Tracy Coley
Tracy Coley is a local writer and former long-time communications staff member at the University of Georgia. She earned an MFA in narrative nonfiction from UGA, where she also teaches journalism. In her spare time she writes about home, faith, grief, resilience, and the human spirit.

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