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Report on Second Annual OLLI Town Hall Meeting

Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at George Mason University

November 3, 2006, 10:00 – 12:15


Approximately 70 members attended the second annual OLLI Town Meeting on November 3, 2006 organized by Deborah Halverson, Ceda McGrew and Paulette Lichtman-Panzer, with help from Dick Chobot, the staff and the Hospitality Committee, chaired by Sandra Driesslein.

Ceda McGrew welcomed members and noted the handouts (Agenda, OLLI Information Resource Look-up Table, and Fee Comparisons of Selected OLLIs and LRIs with OLLI-GMU). She reviewed various definitions of a Town Meeting, and concluded that technically, today’s is a Town Hall Meetiing, or an interactive forum allowing all to enter into discussion.  She introduced the panel of committee chairs, officers, executive director and Board members present.



President Debbie Halverson thanked the organizers and explained the panel process. Each would speak briefly. Following the presentations, there would be a general question and answer session.

Program/Program Review Committee. Executive Director Dick Chobot stood in for PRC Committee chair Kathryn Russell, who was out of town on a family emergency. He said the winter term catalog is in final production and is expected to go to the printer by December 1, at which point it would be up on the OLLI Website. Members should receive it by the first or second week in December. He said OLLI is blessed with the high quality of its program.

Dick explained the program development structure of the Program Review Committee, the Program Committee, and its Resource Groups. He encouraged members to participate in Resource Groups in subject areas or locations (such as Reston or Loudoun) that interest them. New ideas being explored include collaboration with the Great Books program, the expansion of the program through technological means, and the use of Teaching Company materials as a framework for discussion classes.

Development Committee Chair Eileen Duggan thanked members for their donations to the Friends of OLLI for scholarships and equipment. Friends of OLLI funds have been used for defibrillators that will soon be installed at Tallwood and Reston.

This year’s campaign for donations will focus on the comfort of the members, specifically on comfortable chairs. A letter will go out to members with the details. OLLI is exploring with the pastor of the church in Reston on how to get more comfortable chairs at that location.

She provided a brief explanation of the $1 million endowment provided to OLLI by the Osher Foundation. The endowment went to the GMU Foundation; OLLI is able to use only the interest from the endowment, expected to be about four percent, but the full amount of interest will not be available until 2009. The Osher Foundation has allowed OLLI the use of up to $50,000 of the endowment, but any such use must be paid back by 2014.

The Development Committee continues to look for opportunities to raise funds. If any members have potential prospects among family, friends or other contacts, please let Eileen know.

Facilities Committee Chair Ben Gold made three points.

  • Landscaping: He hopes members have enjoyed the results of the landscaping in the front of Tallwood by Valerie Braybrooke and her Dirty Knees Club colleagues. Next they will be working on the back of the facility.
  • Classrooms: Having found additional locations in the Fairfax area, he feels that classroom availability in Fairfax is all right. In Reston, a few other locations besides the church are already in use. He is talking with Northern Virginia Community College in Reston and the local Hebrew Congregation as possible additional facilities.
  • Parking: In the short term there will be no change in the swimming pool parking lot. The pool itself must be redone; the heavy equipment for this may cause the loss of some spaces. The timeframe is not certain. A year after the pool is redone, the parking lot will be redone.

Publications Committee Chair Gordon Canyock asked for feedback on various publications. Catalogs cost $2 each and are used for recruitment as well as mailed to each member. Could OLLI save money by asking members to use the Website to download the catalog? He also wants feedback on the OLLI E-News. Editor Rod Zumbro doesn’t hear that much from members. Gordon would like feedback on such issues as listing travel opportunities.

As chair of the Ad Hoc Committee on Bylaws Revision, Gordon reminded members of the November 14 special membership meeting. A vote on the revised bylaws is the only issue on the agenda, and requires an up or down vote. He hopes for a good turnout, either in person or by absentee ballot. Any member with questions could see Gordon later.

Loudoun Campus Steering Committee Chair Ray Beery, a former LRI president, reported that a year and a half ago, GMU opened a campus in Loudoun County, mainly for night school classes. The University asked OLLI to start some courses in its facility to serve the 3,000-4,000 retirees in the county. This spring eight or nine courses will be offered as an experiment with a different fee schedule. The facility has wonderful classrooms that are being provided by GMU for daytime use, and there are restaurants in walking distance. He invited members to visit.

Finance Committee Chair Don Yesukaitis, the OLLI treasurer, thanked members for their contributions to Friends of OLLI. He explained that finances follow the OLLI mission and its program. OLLI is in good financial condition. It maintains a $50,000 rainy day fund for emergencies. Its finances are reviewed by outside auditors. The auditors gave OLLI a clean report for 2005 and concluded that OLLI has good internal accounting procedures. For 2006, OLLI will spend approximately 98 percent of the budgeted amount; it is rare for an organization to come that close.

Work is underway with the ED on the 2007 budget. There will be an open Board meeting on the 2007 OLLI budget tentatively scheduled for December 7. Details will be announced and members are encouraged to attend.

Whether OLLI will receive any further major grants or donations is uncertain, so all members bear responsibility for the OLLI budget. Will there be a dues increase, and if so how much? The answer right now is that Don doesn’t know. The Finance Committee and the Board will be discussing this. We were at $200 fifteen years ago, and at $280 now. An increase will be necessary at some point.

President Debbie Halverson on the State of the Institute:  She hoped that OLLI would hold a Town Meeting every year, and she noted that the Board, staff and committees had followed through on most of the suggestions members made last year. This year she asked for suggestions of discussion topics in advance. She was pleased with the result, and some of these will be small group discussion topics. Others were referred to a committee, and some need other formats. Some were small, such as the suggestion that the wreath above the fireplace in TA-1 was funereal and should be removed.

Debbie said that a year ago OLLI restructured. This was necessary because we had grown and there is a lot to do. We hired an executive director and left governance to the Board. We are a large LLI, although smaller LLIs also have EDs. We have a good new staff who report to the ED. The ED is on site all day; his duties are listed in his job description. Prior to hiring an ED, we had an overworked volunteer Board, and things were not running smoothly. Now, except for inadvertent glitches, things are running well. The fall catalog shows the quality of the program.

On the program side, we have the Program Review Committee with overview responsibility, the Program Committee with its Resource Groups for member involvement in developing course and event ideas, with Dick and Rae Schafer involved throughout the process. Stimulating ideas for programs is what makes us great.

Having an ED has enabled us to make maximum use of Tallwood; the Friday programming is an example. There has to be somebody here all the time who has authority to act. Neither the president nor any other volunteer can do that. Senior issues are coming to the forefront in the minds of legislators and county officials, and OLLI is being consulted. The ED helps to stimulate such consultation and is in a position to take advantage of such opportunities to OLLI”s benefit.

OLLI now has 732 members. You would think this would mean more volunteers, but this is not the case. While the operation is becoming more complex there are fewer volunteers stepping up to help. She urged use of the OLLI Information Resource Look-up Table to determine who to contact on various topics. (It was pointed out that the Table omits the Religion and Philosophy Resource Group, as well as the Reston and Loudoun Resource Groups.)

Debbie concluded by saying that we have challenges and change, but the reason you joined OLLI is to learn and to grow, and OLLI’s mission to help you with that will never change.


Question and Answer Session

Questions asked by members and responses provided by OLLI officers, committee chairs or the executive director are summarized here in the order in which they were asked.

What about the sign on the wooded area at the corner beside the pool lot announcing two luxury homes to be built? Ben Gold has been told by a pool official that the homes to be built beside the pool lot will not extend beyond the tree line and should have no effect on the parking lot.

Suggestions regarding the $2 cost of the catalog and the possibility of downloading it from the Website instead of receiving a printed copy: Allow members to opt out of having the catalog mailed to them. This would be staff intensive and require keeping a separate database. Send only one copy to households with two members. Same problem.

President Debbie Halverson asked Dick Chobot to explain the UBRC process. The executive director said that the GMU Board of Visitors has approved development of a University Based Retirement Community. The University is negotiating a final agreement with Greystone Communities, a Sunrise subsidiary. The UBRC is to include a new home and headquarters for OLLI. The location is just off Braddock Road west of Rt. 123. The earliest occupancy would be in 2009, but little is known as yet about timing and how the space will be handled.

Board member Jan Dewire said the wreath in TA-1 was made by one of the original members and she thought it should stay. Another member said if we were going to have a Christmas wreath, we should also have a menorah.

Board member Bruce Reinhart alerted members to the fact that one can now have a required withdrawal from an IRA sent directly to OLLI (or a qualified nonprofit or charity) and pay no taxes on the withdrawal. Eileen Duggan said there would be an OLLI E-News article about this. Don Yesukaitis urged consultation with an expert on the details.

How do off-site locations for large classes fit into the budget? The Jewish Community Center and sometimes the Reston Community Center will offer free space if their own members can also attend the class held there. Other off-site locations are rented from churches, and to the extent they can be planned for in advance, are factored into the budget.

Are we pursuing grant opportunities for seniors? Yes, keeping in mind that grants come with strings. Sometimes administrative and reporting requirements cost enough in dollars and labor to offset the gain.

A member felt we need the paper catalog. It would cost more than $2 just to print it at home. Consider requesting bids for the printing job; there may be sources less expensive than the GMU print shop. It doesn’t need to be archival paper. But OLLI should live with a published catalog. Other suggestions on this subject included having members pay separately if they wanted a paper catalog. Publications chair Gordon Canyock suggested that members recycle their pristine catalogs back to OLLI for use in recruitment efforts.

When the two luxury homes are built near the pool, will the path from Forest Avenue to the pool parking lot disappear? Probably, but we don’t know for sure.

On the UBRC: Do we have a guarantee from GMU that we will have Tallwood until we move to the UBRC? No, but our written agreement with GMU is that they will house us. Timetable? Earliest possible date for the UBRC occupancy is 2009. GMU has not set a date for the faculty housing planned eventually for the Tallwood site. Where will the UBRC be located? West of Rt. 123 on Braddock Road at the western corner of what is now the playing field area.

A member who lives in Manassas knows that GMU has a campus in Prince William County, and said she would like to get classes started there. The Northern Virginia Community College LLI in Prince William County serves that area.

On OLLI communication vehicles: The comment that members are pretty well pleased with the OLLI E-News and that’s why you don’t hear more from members about it elicited wide agreement and head nodding. Members noted with approval that the OLLI Website is updated more often than many other Websites.

Are we making OLLI’s specific needs known to GMU on the UBRC? A specific set of OLLI space requirements was developed by Bob Bohall and Pat Carroll and transmitted to GMU. There were further comments concerning the OLLI-GMU relationship. The Osher Foundation endowment to OLLI adds to the value of the GMU Foundation. OLLI helped GMU obtain a grant from the Osher Foundation for scholarships for reentry by mature students. GMU is generous to OLLI; the value of the University contribution to OLLI maintenance and capital expenses amounted to approximately $100,000 in the most recent year. OLLI serves a purpose that GMU is mandated to provide in service to seniors. Dick Chobot, because he holds a GMU faculty appointment, was asked to serve on a university committee on seniors. The relationship is close and beneficial to both sides. Still, it is clear that protecting our interests in the UBRC needs continuing attention.

Will expansion into Loudoun County affect our dues? GMU is providing free facilities, parking, technology and some funding. Beyond the experimental phase, it is hoped that the Loudoun location will be self-supporting with full OLLI members from Loudoun County. And other OLLI members will be able to take courses at the Loudoun site at no extra cost. Growth is limited at Tallwood; Loudoun could provide an expanded dues base. If the dues base does not expand as anticipated, what then? The only major expense would be if the Loudoun site requires OLLI staff. That would require a discussion and decision by the Board. Will Loudoun take instructors away from other locations? Even in the experimental phase, half the instructors will come from Loudoun County, with a few OLLI instructors (including Debbie Halverson and Ben Gold) who have volunteered to teach this spring. Beyond that, Ray Beery anticipates that instructors for Loudoun will be home grown. A final comment was that if one has a real concern about the Loudoun County site, get on the committee and get involved.

“Give your fanny a treat. buy a comfortable seat. 50% off for half-asses!” To a burst of laughter, this was suggested as the slogan for the Development Committee’s upcoming campaign for donations to Friends of OLLI for more comfortable chairs.

Will the catalog for Loudoun County classes be included in the main OLLI catalog? No, at first it will be separate, but it will be mailed to all members with the regular OLLI catalog.

One member said she took catalogs to the Fairfax Senior Center, and there was considerable interest, but some could not afford the dues. Debbie Halverson reminded members that we do have scholarship help available for those in need. She also referred members to the Fee Comparisons of Selected OLLIs and LRIs with OLLI-GMU. She felt that for four courses per term, you would pay much more at many other LLIs.


Discussion Group Session

Discussion group leaders Helen Anderson, Roxanne Cramer, Beverly George, Sheila Gold, Sandy Lisiewski, Benny Meyer, Carolyn Sanders and Thelma Weiner were assigned questions from those submitted in advance by members. Groups were made up of those sitting nearest to each group leader, and each leader reported to the whole group on discussion results.

1. OLLI offers a quality education program contingent on maintaining this quality with its skilled and knowledgeable instructors and facilities. Being aware that our instructors are not compensated and some are not experienced teachers, what methods might staff and program volunteers use to evaluate courses?

  • Formal evaluation might cause a loss of teachers.
  • This is a stress-free learning and teaching experience. People can drop a course, not sign up for classes by that instructor, or talk to the instructor privately about expectations for a class.
  • Encourage instructors to ask class members what they enjoyed, what they would have preferred more or less of, for the instructor’s personal use.

Discussion included the point that it would be better to provide feedback to an instructor through the liaison rather than to the instructor directly. Dick Chobot commented that the Program Review Committee wanted feedback from members on evaluation. He asked members who feel a class is not adequate to contact him with specifics, or if a class is great, contact him with specifics.

2. The dues structures of LLIs differ from one another in various ways. You have a sheet of data comparing dues at a number of LLIs in the U.S. You might also consider that in 1991 OLLI was founded with a $200 fee; the CPI (Consumer Price Index) today indicates that what a dollar would buy in 1991 now would cost $1.49. Based on this data: Name 3 reasons why a dues increase is not justified and/or name 3 reasons why a dues increase is justified.

  • We are all familiar with inflation and know OLLI is not immune to that.
  • Our own incomes don’t keep up with inflation.

3. The dues structures of LLIs differ from one another in various ways. You have a sheet of data comparing dues at a number of LLIs in the U.S. You might also consider that in 1991 OLLI was founded with a $200 fee; the CPI (Consumer Price Index) today indicates that what a dollar would buy in 1991 now would cost $1.49. Based on this data: Name 3 reasons why a dues increase is not justified and/or name 3 reasons why a dues increase is justified.  (Note: Two groups were asked to tackle this issue.)

  • We know we have a bargain.
  • Do we need more money? We would need a proposed budget to be able to decide.
  • The staff is a major cost with a balloon payment this year and the rest left to an ongoing Board to deal with.
  • If grants are used for salary, how do you deal with it later?
  • Some are put off by the “huge” salary of the ED; it’s not clear what he does.
  • From $200 to $280 is a small increase since 1991.
  • A dues increase of 5 to 10 percent is reasonable; more would be troublesome.
  • If dues are not increased, what would be lost, what cut out, how would it affect us?
  • We would need to know why, what is the need, please explain to us.

Debbie Halverson commented that we are what we are because we have the ED that we need.

4. The editor of the E-News is always looking for ideas and articles of interest to members. What types of information would you like to see included in E-News and how can the effectiveness of E-News as a communication tool be enhanced?

  • You’re doing a great job so there isn’t much to say.
  • It’s an effective tool; we’re getting it electronically.
  • It’s especially appreciated during breaks between terms.
  • Profile other members; start with committee members.
  • Have a column on events and discounts for seniors offered in the community.
  • Promote the GMU ID card and its benefits.

Susanne Zumbro said Rod Zumbro writes very little himself for the newsletter; he needs volunteers. Gordon Canyock also said the Publications Committee needs more staff writers. They have done some profiles and would do more with more volunteer writers.

5. Students who do not show up at all in classes for which they have enrolled is an ongoing problem, particularly when we often have waiting lists for some classes. List 3 to 5 strategies for dealing with no-shows.

  • After two weeks, contact the waiting list; attendance goes down over time.
  • Encourage attendees to put “away” on the attendance list for weeks they know they will miss in future weeks.
  • Contact the office by email if you know you will be away.
  • No punishment, please.

These points sparked discussion: A problem is that some members sign up for too many courses. Some do this because they know they might not get into them all. Use the drop and add forms available at both locations. Doesn’t the office flag those who sign up for two classes at the same time? No, the system doesn’t allow this. Debbie Halverson encouraged members to be reasonable and fair and realize you may not be able to get everything you want. Dick Chobot reminded members that instructors get a class list. If 50 sign up and only 25 show up, OLLI is less likely to be able to entice that instructor to teach again. Members need to honor their commitments. Debbie hopes understanding the problem will help. Bruce Reinhart felt we have outgrown Tallwood though not the Fairfax area. We need more spaces or to limit enrollment at Tallwood. Ben Gold said it’s a balancing act; more off-site space rentals cost money.

6. The mission of OLLI is both educational and social. Considering that we have members attending classes at both Reston and Tallwood who do not have many opportunities to mingle socially, what types of social activities would you like to see introduced or have more of to strengthen friendly relationships at OLLI?

  • Have special event or theme lunches such as Art Cook scheduled.
  • Get people together from the same geographic area.
  • Sponsor get-togethers around a common interest such as theater, dinners.
  • Get people with the same first name together.
  • Have pot luck lunches; sponsor walking groups
  • Sponsor trips with lunch included

A special events subcommittee member said they are working on lunches.

7. Think about the typical class at OLLI. Give three or more ideas about how this experience can be enhanced.

  • Hooray for the potential new more comfortable chairs!
  • Try out audiovisuals before class starts.
  • Some questions and comments are too long and hijack the instructor; the class liaison should step in when this happens.
  • Liaison should make clear whether the instructor is or is not available after the class to take questions.
  • Balance the speaker system at Christ Lutheran Church.
  • Have the instructor repeat the question so all can hear it.
  • Have instructors use the available microphones.
  • How do you guarantee the quality of speakers?

8. OLLI, like other LLIs, is dependent upon its volunteers for teaching courses, working on committees or in the office. What suggestions do you offer to recognize and reward their service?

  • Service is its own reward.
  • To get more volunteers, members need specifics; what jobs need to be done?
  • Suggests a weekly article in newsletter saying “this committee needs x number of volunteers for x job.”
  • Give more credit in the catalog to coordinators and key volunteers.
  • When offering a suggestion or identifying a problem, think of a solution.

Publications Committee chair Gordon Canyock said he has been encouraging committee chairs to submit “help wanted ads” to the OLLI E-News.

The Town Meeting concluded with the award of door prizes donated by Thelma Weiner. At 12:15, attendees enjoyed refreshments provided by Sandra Driesslein and the Hospitality Committee.

Submitted by Carol Henderson, OLLI Secretary


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