By Sara Appel-Lennon
For the last 35 years, San Diego Oasis has served over 6,000 members in a space on the third floor of Macy’s in Mission Valley. Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., Oasis offered classes there to the 50-plus population at a nominal cost.
However, with the impending closing of the Mission Valley Macy’s store (one of 67 store closures nationwide), Oasis staff was forced to search for a new location — preferably, one with ample parking, 24-hour security and easy access by bus and trolley.
Oasis found a perfect spot that fit the bill in Grossmont Mall. Even better, mall owners the Cushman family offered the space for the Oasis Wellness Center rent-free.
To announce their new location, San Diego Oasis hosted a grand opening on Wednesday, June 7. The more than 600 people in attendance enjoyed refreshments, speakers and samples of the kinds of programs and classes the center will provide.
George Chamberlain, a 20-year Oasis instructor and member of the board of directors, MC’d the event and introduced the various speakers and presentations.
Lori Moore, director of advertising and marketing for Grossmont Mall presented a $2,500 check to Oasis president and CEO, Simona Valenciute.
“We were on a 50-year ground lease that expired Jan. 11, 2015. We rebranded the mall with a new logo and bright colors,” Moore said. “Our goal was to bring family fun and free events to the mall to help support our retailers and the local community. We now host more than 50 events a year. We are excited to welcome San Diego Oasis to our mall family and the La Mesa community.”
Chief of Staff at San Diego County Board of Supervisors Salvatore Giametta brought a round of applause from the audience after he proclaimed June 7 “San Diego Oasis Day.” He presented the proclamation to Valanciute as they hugged.
Afternoon speakers included Susan Taylor, vice president of external affairs at Scripps, who gave a presentation about “Gadgets, Gizmos, and Good Health.” Visiting authors Suzy Spafford, creator of “Suzy’s Zoo,” and Tom Hom also gave presentations.
In her presentation, Valanciute thanked Suja Juice, AT&T, Grossmont Center Mall owners the Cushman family, and First American Trust for sponsoring the grand opening. She said the purpose of the event was to inform the public San Diego Oasis is ready to meet the needs of the growing 55-plus population.
“People are living longer. Longer can also be lonelier,” she said, adding that Oasis’ goal is to keep seniors actively engaged by offering participation in various classes.
Valanciute also touted the new location’s improvements over the third floor of the Westfield Macy’s building.
“We’re the only Oasis to have our own sign on the building,” she said. “We have our own space that we built and designed.”
Former San Diego State University professor Judy Lewis attended the grand opening of the new Oasis location. She is a longtime Oasis participant, having attended around 700 classes, including fitness.
“I hate exercise but I love coming to Oasis,” she said. “I was afraid. I didn’t want to look wimpy.”
The night before the grand opening, a special reception was held to honor the national Oasis founder and Chairman Emeritus Marylen Mann, hosted by San Diego Oasis’ past director Harry Matheny.
Mann, who resides in St. Louis, Missouri, said the Grossmont Mall site will serve as a model for other Oasis locations and spoke to the organization’s mission.
“The overall goals of Oasis are to improve quality of life and set a new standard of what older people are capable of,” she said.
Mann then spoke about founding the organization in 1982 when she discovered that most senior programs offered only Bingo and “low-level crafts.”
“It hurt my heart,” she said. “This was condescending. That started me off.”
With a background developing college curriculum, Mann set out to help seniors “age productively.”
In 1985, with $10 million from government grants, Mann conducted a 10-year study about seniors and aging.
Mann discovered seniors can age productively by meeting three sets of needs — social engagement, fitness and volunteerism. Oasis is the only organization in the country to meet all three needs.
To address volunteerism, Mann started the country’s largest intergenerational tutoring program in East Harlem. Half of a million kids have been taught to read by Oasis volunteers over the years.
Oasis now offers full programs in nine cities, including San Diego, Los Angeles, San Antonio, Albuquerque, St. Louis, Indianapolis, Rochester, Syracuse and Washington D.C. Partial programs are offered in 50 cities.
San Diego Oasis is located at 5500 Grossmont Center Drive, Suite 269 in La Mesa. For more information, visit SanDiegoOasis.org or call 619-881-6262.
—Sara Appel-Lennon is a creative writing instructor, children’s author and a former professional clown. Her website is sara-appel-lennon.vpweb.com.