OASIS reaches into community for more Black participation

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For 24 years, which they are celebrating this month, OASIS has been catering to the adult community with their organization located in more than 20 cities, including Pittsburgh, which is the only location in Pennsylvania. OASIS, like their mission states, is a national non-profit organization dedicated to enriching the lives of individuals aged 50 and older through lifelong learning and service.

“We are a well-rounded organization. There are a number of organizations that focus on one piece of the pie, and we focus on so much more. And the volunteers we have here are the stars of OASIS,” said Gail Weisberg, executive director of the Pittsburgh chapter of OASIS. “We are a product of the community and my goal is to enhance and grow the organization. We offer educational and volunteer opportunities, along with cultural experiences.”

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WITH THE PROGRAM—Gail Weisberg discusses OASIS and its plans for the future. (photo by J.L. Martello)

OASIS offers a number of activities for mature adults to get involved with. One of their major programs is the OASIS Connections Technology Training program, which is a weekly hands-on class to build skills and confidence in computers and the Internet.

The program teaches mature adults how to work with and navigate through Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint and the Internet.

Classes are offered throughout the Pittsburgh area, especially in the Hill District at the Martin Luther King Jr. Reading Center. Calvin J. Bush, an OASIS volunteer computer instructor at the center said it is important for mature adults to be savvy in computers not only to keep up with the times but also for communication purposes. “We live in a technological age. They need to know what their kids and grandkids are doing, but also to communicate with their grandkids. That is how they communicate now, they no long write letters like they used to,” he said. He has been teaching for the organization for since 2007.

Along with the Internet and Microsoft Windows, Bush said when classes start again in November, he will add Publisher to the classes. “I got a lot of requests for it.”

Although Bush feels the program is a valuable, he said that he would like to see more funding so that the program can be offered to participants completely free, instead of with a minimal cost.

There is training for all levels of students, beginners to intermediate. For people just looking to get some knowledge, to those needing a refresher course for employment purposes.

Some of the key focuses are the community and education. It merges the two through its tutoring program as volunteers go into schools for one hour a week and work with kids in grades K-3 to help them in some of the courses.

Currently, the program is taking place in two major districts, the Pittsburgh Public School and Woodland Hills.

“Right now those are the only school districts we have grant funding to work with. Our tutors are not in every school, but we are in every neighborhood within those districts,” Weisberg said.

The tutors go through a two-day, 12-hour training on curriculum that is supplied by the national OASIS organization. Weisberg said the only qualifications that the volunteers must meet besides the usual clearances, are that they be 50 or older, have a big heart and a lot of patience. She also said that last year the organization had 119 tutors going to the schools and that they worked with 259 students.

They are also now introducing a new tutoring program called High Impact Tutoring, which will give students more time with the volunteer tutors. Instead of meeting with their tutor for one hour a week, children will get to work with them for two to three hours.

“A study was done that found if adults spend more than one hour with a child, they are more likely to learn more. We would like to prove that it’s true,” said Weisberg.

Marlene Rebb, the intergenerational tutoring coordinator, said, “Tutoring is good for the students and for the tutor. It fills the need they both have to succeed. For the tutor they succeed in helping someone and the students succeed in their progress.”

Besides education, OASIS is also taking a part in health and the fight against childhood obesity through their Active Generations program, which is in participation with Citiparks and The Boys and Girls Club. It pairs older adult volunteers with children at established afterschool programs one-hour a week for eight weeks and discusses nutrition and exercise and their importance. In the program kids are given an education on how to make healthy food choices and gives them an opportunity to do fun exercises.

“We train people 50 and over and for the last 20 minutes of each session, the kids and the volunteers make a healthy snack and eat it together,” Weisberg said. “It’s not that we teach the volunteers anything new, we just remind them.”

The Pittsburgh chapter was the first group to try the program as a pilot four years ago, and now it’s in eight cities.

The organization offers many other education, wellness and fun activities to older adults throughout the year in their catalogue.

With constant growth and positive change, Weisberg said she would like to see more male and African-American participation. She said there are some plans to do more promoting among African-Americans.

“I would like to see more male involvement, especially with the tutoring,” said Weisberg.

With their many volunteer opportunities and activities available, this organization continues to prove that life does not stop after 50. For more information on OASIS, visit http://www.oasisnet.org.

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