AARP Award Marylen MannOn November 4 Marylen Mann turned over the gavel at The Oasis Institute to a new Chairman of the Board, Cindy Brinkley. Marylen founded Oasis in 1982 and has been Chairman since 2003, leading Oasis to reach over 360,000 adults age 50+ in 27 cities. Here are some of her thoughts on Oasis as she moves into a new role as a board member.
How have perceptions of aging changed since the early days of Oasis?
Oasis was not an easy sell in the beginning. There was so much misunderstanding of older people and what we can do. And there wasn’t much available for mature adults to engage in intellectually stimulating programs, and to use our experience. There was not much attention paid to doing what it takes to stay healthy. We didn't find a lot of enthusiasm for the concept of Oasis, outside of the people who took our classes and were hungry for more. Perhaps that was partly because of demographics – there were simply fewer older people in those days. Oasis was a bit ahead of the curve.
Now there’s a much greater respect for what mature adults have to offer, and so many more ways we can get involved in the community. There's more awareness that we can do anything. We’re as interesting and as talented as we have always been, and our experience helps us appreciate what’s important. And there is a broader understanding of the importance of prevention, of staying active and challenging our minds.
What is the most important guiding principle behind Oasis for you?
Social interaction is the key. We learn best when we're with people who share our interests and challenge our thinking. And to make the lifestyle changes needed to maintain health, we need the support of others.
Connecting with young people is especially important. Oasis Tutoring has shown us the value of this connection. Children today are bombarded with stimulation, expectations and problems. The adults are a calming influence. Younger people bring a reality to older people, a flexibility. You have to be flexible to work with a child. I didn’t anticipate how passionate the volunteers would become about this. They make a commitment to help children succeed, and they stick with it for years.
What are your dreams for Oasis?
I’d like to see our intergenerational programs expand dramatically. The need is so critical for caring adults to help kids at risk. I look forward to more classes that really stretch people intellectually. I would like to see more cultural exchange with people from other countries, to understand differences in lifestyles and attitudes. We need to be creative in using technology to expand our boundaries.
I have faith in the people at Oasis. Our mission is so important. We need to be flexible and open to doing things differently. And we need to stay in touch with our participants and what their dreams are.