Nonprofit ‘Senior Center Without Walls’ Helps Local Family Stay Connected

| July 6, 2020 | 0 Comments

By Simona Valanciute

San Carlos resident Ed Robles is not someone who stays at home easily. Before California’s shelter-in-place orders went into effect, the 93-year-old World War II veteran was busy and active, filling his time with personal training sessions, coffee club and volunteering with San Diego’s Retired Senior Volunteer Patrol, where he won “Law Enforcement Volunteer of the Year” in 2015. Unfortunately, social distancing restrictions have forced him to sideline all of his in-person social, fitness and volunteer activities.

Robles’ granddaughter Christianna Ortiz, who he has lived with him for the past three years, knew her active grandfather needed a way to be engaged with the world if he couldn’t leave the house. Almost as soon as the pandemic hit, Ortiz signed Robles up for online classes with San Diego Oasis. Due to the pandemic, the organization moved its courses online (literally over one weekend) – and has seen a new level of engagement from older students and instructors alike as hundreds enrolled and continue to sign up in droves. The average San Diego Oasis online student is 71 years old, and some are in their 90s. Instructors are typically around 60 years old. All have eagerly embraced the online learning model, and some classes are seeing upwards of 150 registrants.

Once Christianna set him up on Zoom, Robles dove right into the Oasis course catalogue. He now takes 8 to 10 classes per week, in subjects such as philosophy, tai chi, history and technology. His new online life isn’t limited to educational pursuits, either.

Ortiz emphasized that online learning has been the key to preserving Robles’ mental health—and thereby his physical health—while he’s social distancing. “They make him think and engage while at home. It’s amazing the amount of questions he has asked.” 

The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a heavy toll on older adults, both physically and mentally. Whether they’re virtual classes, social media groups or any other sort of online gathering, “senior centers without walls” may be crucial to the health of our seniors. Students like Robles prove how flexible, dynamic and curious our seniors are—far from the fearful, technology-shy stereotypes often reflected in the media. Creating new virtual spaces for seniors to gather, socialize and learn new skills will keep them truly healthy both now and for years after life resumes something resembling “normal.”

Simona Valanciute is the president and CEO of San Diego Oasis, an award-winning nonprofit organization serving people age 50 and better, who pursue healthy aging through lifelong learning, active lifestyles, and community service. Learn more at 

Ed Robles is shown with his granddaughter, Christianna Ortiz. Photo provided by Christianna Ortiz.

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Category: Life Style, Local News, Seniors

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