For older Boston adults, OLLI courses at UMass Boston are free and on Zoom

Jean Hunt, fourth from left, led a Boston by Foot tour of Clam Point last May. Hunt’s experience with Boston by Foot inspired her to lead a virtual tour of Clam Point for OLLI’s Winter Program Jan. 27. “I want to promote Dorchester,” Hunt said.

A wine and cheese tasting tutorial and a Mass. General Hospital health seminar, all over Zoom. That, among other things, is what the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) is offering to Greater Boston adults over the age 50 at UMass Boston in its winter programs, all virtually, and free of charge.

Jim Hermelbracht, director of OLLI, created the programming during the pandemic as a way for the middle-aged and above to stay connected and learn to use Zoom along the way. “It’s nice to see how the comfort and confidence level in Zoom has grown tremendously amongst our members,” he says.
Winter program participants met for a virtual wine and cheese tasting experience that was hosted by two taste guides in Rome named Eleanora and Gina who showed OLLI participants how to inspect and taste the wine and cheeses.

Although it is harder for some to communicate back and forth over Zoom, Hermelbracht said that “we’ve heard from our members that with just the simpleness of seeing another person online, [whether you participated or not], folks felt engaged.”

For Jean Hunt, a long time OLLI member and fifth-generation Neponset resident, the programs provide connection in ways that relate to her interests. “It’s developing new friendships, experiences, and the opportunity to contribute by doing some walks and learning about different places,” she said. A tour guide for Boston By Foot, Hunt will lead a virtual walking tour of Clam Point this Friday.

According to Jeff Burr, a professor of gerontology at UMass Boston, the Zoom programs also help to keep people engaged as they cope with winter and concerns about viruses and mobility. “Older adults don’t need to get out” to participate, he said, and they avoid expenses and safety issues.

Last Thursday, OLLI hosted a health seminar with Mass. General to answer health-related questions. Dr. Matt Russell, a palliative care doctor at the hospital, updated participants on the latest Covid recommendations and other illnesses known to spike in cold weather. “People need information, but they also need a sense of community,” he said.

OLLI also hosts film screenings and lectures on various topics. “Quality of life has many dimensions.” Burr said. “It’s physical, it’s social, it’s cognitive. And so, engaging with other people, as long as it is positive, has a lot of positive outcomes.”

Because OLLI invites anyone interested to lead a course or volunteer, Hermelbracht encourages people of all ages to consider utilizing the institute’s resources. “Curiosity never retires,” he said, “and through these programs we help engage people’s minds with others.”

The courses run from Jan. 19 through Tues., Feb. 28, with no membership required. A full list of course offerings is available at

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