Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI)
Member-Owned and Member-Operated Lifelong Learning for those over 50
Post written by Judy Jameson
My husband Alan and I moved to the DelWebb in Nocatee in 2009 after living and traveling for six years in our RV with no home base. We called it our “wheel estate.” We love the DelWebb–it’s easy to get involved in activities and make new friends. But it’s a little insulated from the surrounding communities. Residents tend to stay “on the compound.” I wanted to find a connection to the larger community. OLLI at UNF was just the ticket.
OLLI at UNF is one of 119 institutes at colleges and universities across the United States that were started with seed money from the Bernard Osher Foundation. OLLI at UNF is unique in that it has only two paid staff members, a director and a program assistant. All the instructors, instructor liaisons (coordinators), attendance takers, board members, special event planners and staff are volunteers. OLLI offers a wide variety of non-credit classes in history, economics, art, literature, foreign language, wellness, games, and personal development.
Instructors are knowledgeable, interesting individuals who have a passion for a subject (sometimes not related to their former occupations) and volunteer to teach a course from one to ten sessions at The University Center at UNF or one of three satellite campuses. One instructor who has “groupies” follow him from one World War II history class to another was a former computer specialist; a former international sales director teaches The Big Bands: The Unknown History of the Black Bands. On the other hand, a former ambassador facilitates discussion classes on foreign policy issues and a professional biographer helps class members write their life stories.
I first got to know OLLI by taking classes. Being a former Peace Corps volunteer (Ethiopia), I immediately gravitated to the classes with an international flavor. Soon I found friends who shared these interests and we enjoyed “OLLI Days” when we car-pooled to class and went to lunch afterwards. Keeping with our international theme, our favorite lunch spots were Blue Bamboo and India House.
One day, in a foreign policy class, a retired physician sitting next to me asked if I’d consider volunteering for OLLI on the Curriculum Team which coordinates with instructors to prepare each term’s course offerings for the catalog. I attended the team’s next meeting and immediately liked the other volunteers, many of whom are long-time Jacksonville residents and involved in many community activities from turtle patrol to Guardian Ad Litem. The Curriculum Team, in many ways, is the “core” volunteer job at OLLI: Each liaison is the first point of contact for 10 to 20 instructors, from planning courses, through teaching, to evaluation and follow-up.
I love volunteering for OLLI–I feel I am participating in building a community of learners from varied backgrounds and neighborhoods in the Jacksonville community, as well as personally learning new things and making many new friends.
Several years ago at a B&C holiday party, I saw my team leader, Nancy Lundgren, and her husband, Richard. We hadn’t realized we were both B&C clients. Nancy is a long-time OLLI volunteer–first a liaison, then team leader, and now president. As president, her priority is completing a comprehensive strategic plan to update OLLI’s organizational structure and volunteer opportunities to better manage its dramatic growth over the last nine years from 150 members and 13 courses per term to over 1400 members and 140 courses per term. Expanding the volunteer opportunities will encourage more members with a variety of skills and time available to be involved and make OLLI truly Member-Owned and Member-Operated.
Ellen Navin was an experienced liaison and my mentor when I joined the Curriculum Team. She and husband Dennis, also an OLLI volunteer, recently became B&C clients. Dennis is an OLLI volunteer on the ED-Ventures Team which creates educational “field trips” to local sites such as Kingsley Plantation, the Kennedy Space Center, and wonderful walking tours of St. Augustine during which I discovered several new places “off the beaten track” to take my winter houseguests.
Last year, OLLI established a relationship with Road Scholar (formerly Elderhostel) to offer selected national and international trips exclusively to members of OLLI at UNF. Last December, Ellen and Dennis and Alan and I went with 20 other OLLI members to New Orleans with Road Scholar. We had a fabulous trip–good accommodations, incredible food, the best lectures ever on architecture, history, cooking, and literature. Alan commented, “I wish my teachers in school had been this good.” We even met an Indian Chief of one of the African-American krewes which hold an alternative Mardi Gras with elaborate, handmade feathered costumes which honor the Native Americans who provided sanctuary to escaped slaves during New Orleans’ early history. (You may remember the Mardi Gras Indians from the HBO series Tremé.) And when we came home from a great trip, we had 20 new OLLI friends.
Through volunteering at OLLI, the four of us have invested in our personal growth and learning and in our community as well.
For more information about OLLI at UNF and a look at the spring-summer program catalog, go to www.unfolli.com or call (904) 620-4200.