I feel very good about the institute at this time. I am by nature a positive thinking person, but many signs point to our continued success, albeit some evident issues do remain to be resolved.
Looking back over the last year, when I first came to office, a special committee of board members was working diligently on reworking the bylaws to conform to our current circumstances and to streamline the governance of the institute. This was completed and the new updated bylaws were put to the membership for a positive results vote in November.
In the fall we held a very successful 15th anniversary party where many of our former presidents and other early members still available attended and were honored. Also in the fall we held our second annual Town Meeting that was again well attended where members expressed their views on a multitude of topics. We have just concluded three mini-town meetings focused on specific topics. These have given the board healthy feedback from members about their wishes or filled them in with information that needed to be clarified regarding the operation of OLLI. Along the same line of member get-togethers, we remember our annual holiday party that was held early in December and kicked off the holiday season, putting many of us in the mood for what was to follow in our individual holiday traditions.
This spring the Board hosted a special party for our incomparable volunteers at The Church of the Good Shepherd and just last week we held another thank you party on the Grand Tier of the Performing Arts Center at Mason for those who teach and have contributed in so many ways to the excellence of our program. While we don’t pay our instructors in currency, we try to reward them with grateful words and hearty handshakes.
In January board members went into retreat and evaluated ourselves. This was an important exercise and wise boards do this regularly to determine what we are doing right and what can be improved.
Throughout these periods, our exceptional program continued apace with outstanding summer offerings, then our usual heavy hitting fall schedule, our winter classes that were only marginally impacted by weather issues and now our successful spring program. We’re so thankful to all who put in so much effort to make our program so outstanding; we know it is second to none in the country.
An ad hoc committee of board members has finalized the first half of our executive handbook, clarifying our governance guidelines. The second half of that will be taken on shortly as we consider a restructuring of our committee responsibilities.
We have weathered a dues increase with preliminary results indicating that at least our spring renewals do not signal a huge number of members jumping ship, but we will keep our conclusions open until we get through to the fall semester when a large number of our members are due to renew. We continue to draw more new members than we lose and I am told that the requests for catalogs keep coming daily. I am convinced that once folks have seen our catalog, they are caught.
Communication has become a matter of focus this year with the perfection of our website, the OLLI E-News that grows better each day, the frequency with which I have spoken to you in president’s messages to keep you informed on issues of importance; also, the ability for you to access the minutes of the board meetings as soon as our bylaws permit; the various town meetings mentioned above and the always welcoming approach we offer to you to attend monthly board meetings. A number of you have taken advantage of that opportunity. We have an ongoing questionnaire in the works that should reap information benefits and a second due shortly.
Now to the work ahead of us: While Dick will focus on the financial aspects of OLLI and challenges there, we will also be looking at how the success of the Loudoun project impacts that. We do know that much work will need to be done to locate the special Loudoun market that comprises the typical LLI membership along with those who would be willing and qualified to teach there.
Also Dick will tell you about the online registration system that will be implemented in the fall with results of making the registration process easier. Be patient with us as we work out any inevitable kinks in it. We are excited to get that going.
My impressions about how well OLLI is doing, however, come from the comments I hear from our members, our new members and our veteran members. While some lament the loss of the good old days with their smaller classes and tighter relationships, the good present days are celebrated by those who are experiencing today’s classes, are enjoying the five-day weeks, the ever burgeoning gardens, the continued additions to our programs in new inventive ways.
It would be OK with me if we continued as we currently are, because things are pretty good. But knowing this OLLI and its ever-refreshed enthusiasm for new ideas, new challenges to meet and new friends to greet, I know it can only get better and better.
Thank you for your attention.
President, Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at George Mason University