By | Robert Brown
When California businessman and philanthropist Bernard Osher founded the Bernard Osher Foundation of San Francisco in 1977 he created more than just a place for people to learn, he created a community. During Saturday’s open house, people from all over Humboldt were invited to come see what classes are being offered this semester and meet the teachers and staff at OLLI.
“After Osher attended his 50 year high school reunion, he said there were two types of people in the room, one type that is waiting to die, and the other type who are learning new things and starting new lives and building new interests.” said Sheila Rocker-Heppe, Director of OLLI.
With over 120 OLLI’s nationwide, it is the largest continuing education organization in the United States. Every OLLI is created differently based upon its location and the interests of the people in the community. All classes are specially designed short courses with no exams or grades, with subjects varying from religion and genealogy to bridge and dance.
“We have moved way beyond the expectation that anyone had for continuing education,” Rocker-Heppe said.
Some classes take place in a traditional classroom setting, but others explore different areas of the community and beyond to teach classes such as kayaking, history or geology. OLLI programs are structured with a learning component in mind. When a person takes a yoga class, they learn the history and vocabulary of yoga as well as the movements.
“When we first started OLLI, the planning grant, which is judged by attendance, didn’t think we would have 500 members to maintain a lifelong learning institute,” Rocker-Heppe said. “We surpassed that number and signed up 1300 members our first year, and have maintained that number for the last 8 years.”
There is a solid connection between OLLI and their communities, in particular Humboldt State University. The people who attend and teach at OLLI are a vibrant, excited and energetic group of people with an age range of 50 to 95 years old. A number of retired faculty from HSU and the Cal State system teach classes, continuing with their passion to teach and serving the community.
“I think that really shows the interested and the interesting people that are a part of OLLI,” Rocker-Heppe said.
OLLI relies on $35 annual membership costs and donations from the Friends of OLLI, who are also members. Donations allow OLLI to stretch into new areas and offer scholarships to offer extended educations to all people in the community, regardless of income.
“Many of the teachers at OLLI have donated their salaries to provide scholarships for others to attend classes,” Rocker-Heppe said.
Courses are usually between two and six weeks long and there are over 100 courses to choose from. OLLI members also receive a 20% discount on select Center Arts events. Every Monday OLLI offers a free presentation to anyone in the community that is primarily focused on teaching people some of the local business origin stories, “how to” courses such as how to create a will, or just cut loose and share ghost stories.
Many members volunteer their time and talents to create an atmosphere that feels truly enriching. OLLI is always looking for volunteers and there are several ways to help, by joining the OLLI advisory committee or the OLLI curriculum committee, by becoming a classroom assistant, or start a Special Interest Group. Call 826-5880 for more information.