Tuesday, September 30, 2014

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U.Va.’s Thriving Lifelong Learning Program Receives $1 Million to Aid Growth

Giving senior citizens a place to learn, discuss and question the world around them builds active minds and upholds Thomas Jefferson’s deeply held belief in education as a lifelong pursuit, an endeavor that the University of Virginia continues to support today.

To further this mission, U.Va.’s chapter of the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute – OLLI for short – has received a $1 million grant to expand its reach as a resource for seniors.

OLLI is a nonprofit organization that offers educational opportunities like three- to six-week courses, outings and seminars for active adults. OLLI at U.Va. is designed for adults 50 years of age and older, although people of all ages may enroll. The volunteer-based institute utilizes its members, as well as other academic and community resources, to organize the courses and educational activities.

OLLI at U.Va. received the grant from the San Francisco-based Bernard Osher Foundation, which supports a growing national network of lifelong learning institutes for senior adults. This is the second grant OLLI at U.Va. has received from the foundation, following an initial $1 million endowment grant in 2007.

The grant came at the right time for OLLI. With 1,100 members and more than 70 course offerings on tap for the fall semester, the volunteer-based organization has been working hard to fill the financial and administrative needs that are necessary to maintain its programming, said Joan Kammire, president of the OLLI at U.Va. board.

The program started in Charlottesville. in 2001, with a start-up grant of $25,000 from U.Va., a handful of volunteers and 17 course offerings. Last year, OLLI had a part-time office and production staff, close to 130 instructors, and offered 70 courses to 835 area senior citizens held in meeting spaces in Charlottesville and Staunton.

“We grow by word of mouth,” Kammire said. “One of the real driving forces is that this is a gap that we’re filling. There are a lot of retirees out there who now have the time to learn something new, grow, be stimulated and meet new people. Because they’re talking about [OLLI] to their neighbors and friends, those people are beginning to come, too.”

This year, OLLI at U.Va. opened a new online registration system, hired a full-time executive director – Beth Barber, who will start this summer – and implemented a strategic planning committee.   

As with the initial endowment, U.Va. will invest $950,000 of the grant and distribute about 5 percent to OLLI annually, according to the agreement with the Osher Foundation, leaving the principal untouched. In addition to the new endowment grant, Osher also awarded a $50,000 grant to partially offset the expenses related to creating the executive director position.

“We would have brought in a paid executive regardless, but the grant makes it possible for us to do it in the best possible way,” Kammire said, “to go out and find somebody who is just the right fit, who can come in and work full time and raise us to the next level of professionalism.

“It’s so significant that this all happened in the same year, at a time when we’re beginning to look at ourselves and grow.”

OLLI classes are taught by specialists in their fields, often retired professors from U.Va. and other universities. Upcoming fall courses include “Wind, Water, Waves and Weather,” “The Political Economy of Haiti” and “Writing Your Life Story.”

There are no grades or tests, and a college degree is not required to take any of the noncredit courses. Since most classes are discussion-based, class sizes average between 30 and 40 people, though large seminar series have been known to boast more than 100 attendees.

With the exception of the part-time office and production staff, OLLI at U.Va.’s support has come from volunteers.

“What we’ve done in this last year has been [the result of] so many people pulling together to make it happen,” Kammire said. “The staff really worked on the online registration – a volunteer developed our entire database and all the strategic planning that has gone on has been [by] various members of the board. The fund development we’ve done has been by board members and friends. … Everybody has come together to make us grow and change the way we have.”

U.Va.’s Board of Visitors recognizes OLLI as a University-related foundation. In 2007, OLLI at U.Va. became one of the now-117 institutes in a growing, national, lifelong-learning network for seasoned adults supported by the Osher Foundation, which was founded in 1977.

To register for an OLLI class, click here. The cost is $100 per semester to take courses at OLLI; $25 is the membership fee and $75 is the cost of taking courses, which are assigned various unit values. Registrants may take up to 12 units per semester before incurring an additional charge of $25 per course. Scholarships are available; call 434-923-3600 for details. Discounts are also given: $10 off to current Senior Center members and $20 off for life members of the U.Va. Alumni Association.

-- by Lauren Jones

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