At the onset of the shelter-in-place orders due to the COVID-19 pandemic in mid-March, 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.
“Today’s older adults are more vibrant and busier than seniors of yesteryear,” said 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,” she continued. “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 (visit bit.ly/2YMIBjX) 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 (visit bit.ly/2NIFJOM), 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,” said 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.”
Valanciute described social isolation among seniors as “an epidemic” before COVID-19, with some studies indicating social isolation is equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
“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,” she said.
Grandfather and granddaughter relationship strengthened
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 eight to ten 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,” said 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-plus 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,” Valanciute said.