Key Takeaways:

Omi became a full-time teaching artist after retiring in 2012 from Columbia University School of Social Work.

“I was able to immerse myself in my artwork when I retired which gave me great joy. I started teaching at various neighborhood centers that serviced all ages from children to seniors.  "I am always willing to teach whoever wants to learn .”

Omi teaches her classes as ‘make it and take it.’ She doesn’t want her learners to labor over skill and come to it later to finish it. She introduces projects they can complete during the time allotted for the workshop this way they can make a sample to understand the process, then finally make it, and take it home with them.

“I want people to feel instant gratification from whatever I’m showing them how to make. That way the people can say I made that. That’s my joy!”

Omi truly enjoys the process of making art. She prefers the hands-on process of creating art that is colorful and rich in texture.

“When I work I usually don't know where I'm going but I know when I arrive. In the beginning, I have no idea what I’ll do with the materials. I lay them out then let the moment speak to me and my hands.”

A tragedy leads her to her health insurance site

Omi had finished an online teaching assignment where she had put together an amazing presentation titled  "Brooklyn Library presents Beautiful Creations." The presentation displayed work that the seniors had done during their eight-week sessions. She had been floating high on the success of the big presentation that everyone had loved when she got a phone call the next day.

Her son called to tell her that her grandson had been in a terrible accident. The news hit Omi hard. To add to that her therapist wasn’t available for sessions for two weeks due to holidays and the end of the year.

“I picked up my phone and searched my health insurance site. Then I saw SilverSneakers was offering GetSetUp. I was amazed when I saw the variety of classes being offered and the frequency. I thought this was what I needed at this time, I signed up for a few classes and I enjoyed all of them.  I found myself searching the GetSetUp site daily looking for more classes to take."

Due to the COVID pandemic, all of Omi's classes were virtual and she was not scheduled to teach any classes for another two months.  She realized that teaching has been a way to help distract her thoughts and now she did not have that distraction.

“I felt lost without teaching since it takes my mind away. I enjoy coming up with a project, the preparation that is needed, and finally presenting and engaging the participants. I felt a void, plus there was COVID. So I was just left with my thoughts.”

Overthinking about her grandson's accident and not having a distraction was taking a toll on Omi’s health. She wasn’t even feeling inspired to go to her art table and work. And with the COVID surge, interactions with people were even more limited than usual.  

“GetSetUp was the perfect segue to quieting my mind. I wanted to hear other voices and feel connected and see different things.”

Taking steps to healing wellness

At first, Omi felt more comfortable just listening. She could listen to a class and do something else with her hands like beading or other artwork.

“I didn't want to participate at first, but eventually I did start participating. I just felt a strong connection, they didn’t know me and I didn't know them, and yet I felt comfortable.”

Omi was in the class Collaging to Connect with Yourself and Others and in a particularly sad state that day. Initially considering she wasn’t feeling well she thought she would just observe. However, the group started talking about butterflies which reminded Omi of a powerful fabric piece she had made. So, she opted to jump into the conversation to share about her work. The group, of other like-minded artists, wanted to see more of Omi’s art!

“The group asked me to do a demo the following week on Sunday. I hadn’t been doing that style of art in a while and it lifted my spirits to prepare for that. I wasn’t even feeling good when I went in, but I got excited to share my art with people who hadn’t seen it before. And it was wonderful.”

From there Omi started to explore more and more within the community. She took classes on photography to learn how to enhance her photographs. Even as a self-taught computer person she still learned things she didn't know in classes on Google tools.

“And I took a class that was painful to listen to but I knew I needed to on organizing and managing your affairs. It talked about important things like long-term health insurance. Because part of me says I'm not a senior, but when the aches and pains come though I realize that I am.”

Making socialization and learning accessible

Due to the pandemic, Omi has learned firsthand how virtual classes can present challenges and rewards, especially as people age. She’s learned to adapt her teaching virtually so that she can still show her art and actions.

“I had a lot of seniors with vision and dexterity issues.  I learned how to accommodate each person in person. Online I had to translate my lessons in a variety of ways so they could thoroughly comprehend what I was presenting without me being there physically.”

For virtual classes, Omi spent an hour demonstrating art like decoupage, paper bead making, botanical printing on fabric & felting using silk & wool fibers. Then she asked her students to create theirs and send a picture of what was created. She put the pictures together in a slide show.

“They inspired me. It is so interesting to see how you demonstrate what you do and how someone else interprets it and adds their twist to present it back to you. Each person translates the words and images differently.”

Omi believes that while the pandemic is not positive, it did bring some positive changes.

“People can connect through GetSetUp and other means, like Zoom. This is so powerful.  So many people welcome the fact that they can connect to classes from art to wellness and remain at home, before COVID many people were left out of certain activities because they were not able to physically go out. Many people couldn't get to a senior center. Now the whole world can come to them.”

Omi knows that connection with people is very important and since we are amid COVID a lot of us would rather not go out too much. One night she wasn’t feeling well, but still wanted to connect so she tuned in to a class without turning her camera on and was able to attend a class from the comfort of her bed surrounded by all her beautiful fluffy pillows.

“These classes reach a lot of people who weren't able to get out and take a class due to COVID. You can find them at any time of day or night. Sometimes you just want to observe a class or just listen to what is being presented. Whether you participate or not, you get a feeling of being connected. You have the freedom to explore and participate in an assortment of classes that sparks your interest from art to exercise".

Feb 1, 2022
Learner Stories

Classes by:

Liz Miller

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