I attended the Osher Institutes National Conference in Irving, TX on April 3-5, 2017 at the luxurious Omni Mandalay Hotel. Accompanying me was OLLI’s volunteer, Marlene Zweig, who joined OLLI at UCLA at its inception in 1995, serving as a member of the original OLLI Advisory Council when fewer than 400 persons participated in the program. She continues to serve as a member of the OLLI Advisory Board and Chair of the OLLI Curriculum Committee. It was our first time to attend.
We marveled at how well organized the conference was — every meeting was well-run, informative, and stayed on schedule; and the attention to detail was apparent down to the color-coded name cards at the final dinner. All the participants were given flash drives that included the slides and handouts of each session. But most importantly, the food was plentiful and delicious. All this thanks to Stacey Hart, Manager of Operations, National Resource Center for OLLI.
We learned that of the 120 lifelong learning programs in the country, no program is like another, nor should be. OLLI isn’t a franchise, they said, but more like a network of bakeries, each one featuring home-baked, delicious cookies.
We were impressed by many of these home-baked surprises: a dance program that included not just ballroom and line dancing but a performance of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”; an acting course on the history of old-time radio that became an active theater performance of a Jack Benny radio show. Which then evolved into productions requiring auditions for actors over 50, featuring such Broadway musicals as Fiddler on the Roof and Grease. Then there were the OLLI members, who with the help of a master gardener, took over a brownfield remediation site and produced 3,000 pounds of fresh produce in its first year and 17,000+ pounds of fresh produce by its fourth year, all of which were donated to food pantries and soup kitchens.
We heard from Executive Director of the Osher National Resource Center (NRC), Steve Thaxton; President of the Bernard Osher Foundation, Mary Bitterman; Senior Program Director of the Bernard Osher Foundation, David Blazevich; and Founder and Treasurer of the Bernard Osher Foundation: the one and only Bernard Osher, who is one cool dude. We were inspired by notable speakers, we networked with colleagues near and far, and we returned with a greater appreciation for UCLA Extension, which provides an infrastructure of support we had always taken for granted.
At a plenary session on fundraising, one panelist got a round of applause when she said she finally got a development officer. The idea of not having one stunned me.
At a new directors’ workshop, we discussed how and if the following offices assisted our work: parking, development, dining services, facilities, mail services, and marketing. One new director said she had none of these services and asked others to tell her how to get them. OLLI at UCLA has all these.
Another director told me he was only allowed to use a classroom on campus on Tuesdays and Thursdays. We have our own space in the new Gayley Center with first dibs on two classrooms, a lounge with three personal computers, a TV, refrigerator, microwave, and free coffee.
So, thank you UCLA Extension, for making us feel at home.
And thank you, Mr. Bernard Osher, for bringing happiness into the lives of 160,125 Osher members in 377 towns and cities across the country.
Mary Ann Wilson Program Coordinator