When I arrived in Southern Oregon in May 2013, I found myself alone and lonely for the first time in my life. It was not a good feeling! A widow after 36 years of marriage, I missed the extensive network of family and friends I’d enjoyed in California.

I was in a new place, with a very different culture, and only a few friends. Transition and change are not easy at any age, but as I approached my mid-60s without my partner and best pal, I suddenly understood how depression and isolation can become realities.

At this age, where do you reach out to meet new friends and develop new relationships? I knew that volunteering would help on many levels — getting me outside my comfort zone, paying it forward, and meeting people with like-minded interests. Some neighbors in Jacksonville had been raving about the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at SOU and encouraged me to go online and check out the courses. They told me about the variety of classes they’d taken at OLLI, and my curiosity was aroused. 

So, in September 2013, I began my OLLI journey. I remember thinking that the low annual fee was a great value, given the unlimited number of classes you could sign up for. I wanted to explore some new ideas. And there were no tests or grades — just the fun of learning! Recalling my college days, the OLLI experience sounded like a real deal, with none of the stress. Needless to say, I haven’t been disappointed.

OLLI classes have allowed me to keep myself intellectually challenged. What’s more, I’ve made connections with some fascinating people. These friendships provide opportunities to go out to dinner or the theater — without feeling like the “fifth wheel.” 

Since OLLI is volunteer-driven, there’s always an opportunity to lend a hand in support of the organization. I took on a leadership role, chairing a committee that requires me to use the skills from my former career in public relations. It feels good to know that I am contributing and making a difference. Some days, I admit, it begins to feel like the old days back at “work,” but I cherish the chance to stay involved. 

OLLI has also allowed me to meet and interact with a variety of community groups and become an integral part of the community. Being new to the area, this experience has helped me feel more “at home,” versus merely looking in from the outside. Keeping active in local affairs is a natural for me and I give OLLI credit for opening that door.

To me, OLLI provides the all-important link between a balanced social life and one of the sure-fire antidotes to aging: lifelong learning! As we know, older adults who find themselves without social connections are more prone to physical and mental health issues. My participation in OLLI is the best way I’ve found to fuel my curiosity and keep my connections alive and well.

Late registration for unfilled classes at Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) at Southern Oregon University begins March 30. Anyone signing up for courses then gets immediate confirmation of admission to a particular course. Classes begin Monday, April 6, and continue through June 12. There is no official age restriction on membership, but the program is geared towards those aged 50-plus. For more information about OLLI, including a complete list of the courses offered this spring, visit www.sou.edu/olli or call 541-552-6048. (This paragraph has been changed to correct the beginning and end dates for the spring session.)