Howard Taylor and his wife, Madeline, both retired around
the same time and were looking for ways to keep physically fit and mentally
sharp. That’s when they discovered the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI)
at the University of North Florida.
In the two years the Jacksonville couple has been
involved in the program, they have taken part in more than 20 separate classes
and numerous organized activities ranging from a tour of the Proton Therapy
Institute in Jacksonville to UNF jazz concerts.
Taylor is one of about 1,200 members participating
in the OLLI program at UNF. Thanks to a second $1 million gift recently
announced by The Bernard Osher Foundation, the program is expected to grow
substantially in coming years.
Osher Institutes, dedicated to individuals 50 and
older, are located at 117 colleges and universities across the country, with
the UNF program being one of the fastest growing in the nation.
That growth — from 12 classes five years ago to 80
classes this fall — was one factor in a decision by the Osher Foundation to
make a second $1 million gift to the University as part of The Power of Transformation campaign.
The gift has been instrumental in pushing the campaign past the $100 million
level. The campaign hopes to reach its $110 million goal sometime late this
The variety of programs was one factor in the Osher
Foundation’s decision to extend funding.
“The range and diversity of educational
opportunities the program offers is impressive,” said Mary Bitterman, president
of the Osher Foundation. “The exceptional growth of the Institute’s membership
over the past several years is certainly a testament to the consistent strength
and appeal of its engaging curriculum.”
With $2 million provided by the Osher Foundation
for the Institute’s UNF endowment, the outlook for the program is indeed
bright, said Continuing Education Dean Robert Wood.
“This extraordinary gift is an indication of the
Osher Foundation’s confidence in UNF to offer the highest-quality enrichment
program to the greatest numbers of learners in the metro area,” he said.
Most, but not all, classes are offered at UNF’s
University Center. A number of classes are offered at Jacksonville senior communities
Fleet Landing, Glenmore, Vicar’s Landing and Westminster Woods. This is
particularly helpful for seniors who are single but still interested in
participating in community activities.
Wood also attributed the success of the program to
“Our growth would not have been possible without
the passionate, committed volunteers who lead and the generous donors who
support our OLLI organization,” he said.
Volunteers are one of the program’s most
distinguishable characteristics. The UNF program relies on more than 350
volunteers to staff committees and also to act as instructors. Four committees
keep the program running, including a curriculum team, a membership team, a
communications team and an activities team. Volunteers are involved in every
aspect of the program — from writing and editing the newsletter to planning
trips and socials.
Since instructors are also volunteers, it has
allowed the program to keep costs affordable, said Jeanette Toohey, director of
the program. Member fees are $45 per person per year with courses priced
according to their length, from $7 to $85, with most being between $20 and $40.
“These affordable costs help broaden our
participation, which in turn explains our growth and why we received the
additional $1 million,” she said.