SAN DIEGO–At the onset of the shelter-in-place orders due to the COVID-19 pandemic in mid-March 2020, the leaders at the nonprofit San Diego Oasis had to make very quick decisions on how to continue to deliver their classes and workshops virtually. Until then, all of their classes were delivered in-person at more than 40 locations throughout the San Diego County region.
Although San Diego Oasis’ mission is to change the way people experience aging, adjusting to a 100% fully online environment was a big change and risk. The team trained and coached their professors and experts in history, humanities, language, technology, art, finance, fitness, and more to bring their presentations online. It has paid off for the nonprofit, in ways they could never imagine, and created a virtual senior center, replacing their physical community presence temporarily until they can get the senior home care they really need.
“Today’s older adults are more vibrant and busier than seniors of yesteryear,” says Simona Valanciute, president and CEO, San Diego Oasis. “Some of our students jumped in to take on the challenge of taking classes online, others were hesitant, but with coaching from volunteers from Qualcomm and the community at large, we have been able to be there every step of the way to transition how students take classes and how instructors present them. We are also attracting new students who haven’t had an opportunity to come into our physical location at Grossmont Center, but through the new ‘virtual senior center’ model, they can. The classes we offer allow students to continue with their studies and participate in new ones, while not physically being together.”
A new social media campaign from Cox Communications features the virtual senior center created by San Diego Oasis, as part of the technology company’s Connection Project initiative, a non-branded campaign which began the COVID-19 period by reaching people with messages of connection. A short film captures the importance of connection and the real power of technology to bring us closer to one another at a time when it is needed. The production team also created a second short film, which focuses on one student’s story. Vickie Daleo from Escondido was a caregiver for her husband, and after his death, she sought new connections through San Diego Oasis.
“Using video conferencing and live streaming, Cox partnered with the Oasis Senior Center in San Diego to help take their curriculum into a virtual world and reunite older adults with their friends and communities,” says Chanelle Hawken, vice president of government and public affairs, Cox California. “We have always known that the most meaningful connections are the ones people share with each other. As a digital connections company, we know that we are really in the business of human connections. It’s our purpose and why we do what we do.”
“Social isolation is an epidemic among seniors already, with some studies indicating social isolation is equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day,” continues Valanciute. “So when Cox connected with us to create this documentary style film to feature a virtual senior center, we immediately said yes, because if we can reach more people to inspire them to stay connected, we can combat the detrimental effects of social isolation, among seniors in San Diego, throughout California, and across the United States.”
Longtime San Carlos resident Ed Robles is not someone who stays at home easily. Before California’s shelter-in-place orders went into effect, the 93-year-old World War II veteran was busy and active, filling his time with personal training sessions, coffee club, and volunteering with the San Diego Police Department’s Retired Senior Volunteer Patrol (RSVP), where he even won “Law Enforcement Volunteer of the Year” in 2015.
Almost as soon as the pandemic hit, his granddaughter Christianna Ortiz set Robles up on Zoom, and he dove right into the San Diego Oasis course catalog. He now takes 8 to 10 classes per week, in subjects such as philosophy, tai chi, history, and technology. His new online life isn’t limited to educational pursuits, either.
“He loves Instagram,” says Ortiz with a laugh. “He has his own page and spams me.” However, she emphasizes online learning has been the key to preserving Ed’s mental health—and thereby his physical health—while he’s social distancing. “The classes make him think and engage while at home. It’s amazing the amount of questions he has.”
Robles has eagerly embraced virtual learning, fitness classes and social groups, and he will likely keep these up long after the state re-opens.
“Ed’s experience shows that our 65+ population can confidently navigate life online, which will be crucial for combating social isolation in the long months until it’s safe for seniors to re-engage physically with society—and, even more importantly, demonstrates that the solution to isolation in older adults may very well be virtual, especially for those who are already homebound or have limited mobility,” says Valanciute.
All classes offered by San Diego Oasis range from free to low-cost and are available to adults age 50 and over. Class fees cover costs and support the mission of San Diego Oasis. On Tuesday, June 30 from 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m., San Diego Oasis hosts “Dismantling Racism One Insight at a Time,” led by popular instructor Peter Bolland who is featured in the short film produced by Cox and is a professor of philosophy and humanities at Southwestern College. Class description: Our great unfinished work in the United States, and the world over, is finally coming to terms with racism in authentic, meaningful, and transformative ways. At root, racism stems from deep structures within consciousness, which then get codified into repressive hierarchical systems that benefit the in-group at the expense of the out-group. In this inquiry we will do the important work of peeling back the layers of unconscious bias, laying bare the untold history of supremacy, and raise our eyes to the realization of the promise of America – a land where all are created equal.” Course fee for Class #321 is $15.
Participants are encouraged to pre-register for Bolland’s presentation and other classes, through their website, www.sandiegooasis.org. For more information, call (619) 881-6262.