COVID-19’s effects on Cal State Fullerton and its various campus communities can be witnessed on the barren campus. Among these groups, the community that calls the Ruby Gerontology Center home, has had their fair share of trials and tribulations while adapting to the new normal.
March 12 is a date etched onto the memory of Joyce Ono, president of the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, known as OLLI. That was when the organization’s board of trustees decided to shut down the program beginning March 16 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The elderly and those with preexisting conditions can experience the harsher side of the virus. With this information, the communities in the gerontology center acted swiftly to protect their high-risk members.
“The most challenging part of switching to virtual instruction has been the ability to have in-person internships,” said Michaela Thompson, a gerontology graduate student. “The risk for severe illness from COVID-19 increases with age, with older adults at the highest risk for contracting the virus. As gerontology graduate students, we do not want to put this population at a higher risk than they already are in the current pandemic.”
The Ruby Gerontology Center hostedf the Aging Studies Program and Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. For Thompson, the center was a place to cultivate their careers and new ideas.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, the gerontology center, especially the learning institute, have tried to adapt to the situation and make the best of the barriers that COVID-19 has set.
Ono said that attendance has increased for many of the institute’s classes, but it was a challenge for the group to learn how to use Zoom and teach it to its leadership, members, instructors and coordinators.
“In that short time, I like to say ‘OLLI pivoted on a penny’ while the campus prides itself for ‘pivoting on a dime’, because we did it all with dedicated volunteers! I am very proud of our accomplishment,” Ono said.
Restricted internships for gerontology students and Zoom meetings aren’t the only setbacks this community has had to face, with a drop in revenue as roughly half of their members dropped their classes and stopped paying.
Normally the center hosts activities for seniors promoting socialization along with physical and intellectual challenges. Ono said they have managed to support the physical exercise and socialization via online activities, but it’s still not the same.
“We miss all the classes, activities and events that are not suitable for presenting virtually, like travel, social get togethers, many of our musical performance classes, bridge, poker and tai chi and other sources of group exercises,” Ono said.
Stacey Fruth, an aging studies graduate and gerontology honors society member, said she remembers her time in the center spent speaking with professors and peers. Her favorite experience in the gerontology center would be the Geropalooza, an event in the main quad where the institute would host games and even a flash dance.
While trying to follow safety protocols and taking their members’ health as the top concern, the gerontology center will eventually make a return to campus.
“We will probably be the last unit to return to campus because our population is the most vulnerable. I'm guessing that we won't be back until fall 2021. It is based on when a proven vaccine is widely administered,” Ono said. “One of our strategic goals for many years was to establish a distance learning capability so members who were no longer mobile or had mobility issues could participate in our classes virtually. We have exceeded our expectations for this goal.”