Like all organizations, Lifetime Learning in Mission has had to adapt in order to continue to serve its members during the Covid-19 pandemic.
According to Ian Graham, President of Lifetime Learning, its mandate is to promote “active living and healthy aging for older adults by providing opportunities for continued life-long learning.”
However, Covid restrictions haves made this a challenge.
“We haven’t been able to meet in person for almost a year now and everybody is missing it,” said Graham.
The normal general interest, education programs and activity programs – the walking group, yoga and educational events to keep seniors physically and intellectually active – had to either stop of change format.
That’s where Zoom came in.
Diana Muntigl, executive director of Mission’s Lifetime Learning said a transition had to be made, adding last March organizers wondered if they were going to do any programs at all.
However, Lifetime Learning has a connection with Eldercollege and many of them have been using Zoom, an online meeting program, for years in order to connect with groups in Ontario and Quebec.
“We started to look at how do we do that here and we started working forward with that,” said Muntigl.
After some initial investigations, Mission’s Lifetime Learning launched its first Zoom online program.
“We knew there was going to be a steep learning curve,” said Muntigl, adding some members felt like they could “never do this” online. However members soon began to adapt to a new way of meeting.
“Each person who was new to this needed some kind of instruction to help them along,” she said, and as the months went by, more and more people started connecting.
There are now eight different programs, four fitness and four educational, being offered online.
And the reach in not limited to Mission.
‘We have people who register from our community and sometimes they bring their family and friends from all over.”
Participants have come from Edmonton, all the way to England.
In order to participate in the programs, you need to register at Lifetime Learning (https://lifetimelearningcentre.org). The challenge, according to Muntigl, is for seniors who don’t have computer access.
Lifetime Learning does have eight tablets they can lend out for those who don’t have the equipment.
Reaction to the new online programs has been positive.
“About 50 per cent of our membership, people who regularly came, are participating. Some people just want that personal connection and technology is not their thing and that makes it challenging.”
Bonnie Hamilton, a director at Lifetime Learning and a member of the writers program, is happy to be able to continue to connect with her group.
“The Zoom was a challenge and sometimes it still is. You run into little things that you have no control over. You have to learn to be patient,” said Hamilton.
“It’s kept us, in our writing group, motivated. Otherwise, I’m not sure – if we weren’t seeing each other on Zoom – how we would keep going because we have been meeting with the same people for over five years.”
While she prefers face-to-face meetings, Hamilton knows the pandemic has forced a change and they’ve worked through it.
“We support each other, not just in our writing, because we’ve gotten to know each other quire well, so if somebody is having a health problem or a death in the family, we’re there for each other too.”
She said she is passionate about writing and is not sure what she would do without it.
Another program that has made a successful transformation from in-person to online, is the chair yoga group.
Norine Longmire, the chair yoga instructor, is the first to lead a wellness program online for Lifetime Learning and the class has grown from a handful of participants to the maximum size.
The in-person program started at Lifetime Learning more than 10 years ago for people who were less mobile.
“We don’t just sit in the chair we actually learn how to use the chair as a stable prop to help us get into other positions,” explained Longmire.
The course helps people to increase strength, balance and mobility as well as making sure blood flow gets to the extremities, the fingers and toes.
Participants in the chair yoga program are told to always use their body wisdom.
“You know your own body. You know what it can do today, and today might be different from yesterday or tomorrow.”
While doing the exercises from home can be more comfortable for people, the online format also has some challenges.
“We are working now with a two dimensional rather than three dimensional environment,” said Longmire.
She said they try to get more feedback at the beginning of the session, talk a bit more to everybody about what is going on with their body because she is not there to watch and supervise in person.
“We let them know that any instruction is always just a piece of advice. It’s an opportunity to do something and they are always the decision maker on where their body goes and what it does.”
Longmire said that’s important in any yoga class, not just online.
Muntigl added that they always make sure people check with their doctor to ensure they are capable of doing classes.
While the Zoom programs are considered to be a success, eventually the in-person classes will return once Covid restrictions come to an end.
The question is, will the online programs continue?
“It’s going to be very important to continue this,” said Muntigl.
Considering transportation issues, weather, limited mobility and other concerns, online programs have allowed Lifetime Learning to reach and serve more people.s