Continuing Education class facilitates senior socialization during pandemic

Conversations over Coffee Class

The onus on safety during the COVID-19 pandemic has led many seniors to avoid crowded places and spend more time at home. However, while social distancing and isolation can keep people physically healthy, it can take a mental toll.

According to the National Poll on Healthy Aging, loneliness has doubled for older adults in the first months of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the numbers have not improved much in the months since.

The staff at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville Continuing Education Institute saw an opportunity to help people socialize safely using Zoom.

“We have a great group of women participate in our senior swim program season after season. They participate for the exercise but also for the camaraderie,” said Strategic and Program Manager Rebecca Powell. “We thought setting up online “coffee talks” might help lessen the isolation COVID can cause with a group as special as these women.”

“Many of us enrolled in this class since it was free and we could continue to keep in touch with our group that has become quite close over the years taking water aerobics together,” said Linda Bernhardt, 71, of Platteville, Wisconsin.

While the initial classes were predominantly made up of the self-proclaimed "swimming women," the Conversations over Coffee classes have grown to include more and more people from outside the group. The classes are unstructured, and topics can range anywhere from the latest happenings in town to politics to the state of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This was a wonderful tool for all of us to keep in touch. Last week we discussed vaccines, who had them, where to get them, and several current and social issues. It can be very informative,” said Bernhardt.

With Wisconsin in the grips of Old Man Winter, snowbirds like Maggie Kleisath have flown south. Thanks to the virtual Conversations over Coffee classes, participants are still able to connect with their friends. In fact, at a class in early February, participants logged in from across the U.S. – including Alabama, Arizona, Georgia and Wisconsin.

I spend some of the winter in Arizona, so it is great to be able to visit with the ladies in Platteville,” said Kleisath, 74. “This has been great because I mean I wouldn’t ordinarily see these folks from December until the end of March or early April.”

Powell said connecting virtually came with an initial learning curve for the participants. However, they were able to bridge the technological and geographical divide by helping one another.

It is amazing how people learn new technology no matter what their age if they see it can help them in some way,” Powell said. “There was a desire on their parts to stay connected, so they overcame the technology barrier.”

Kleisath said the classes have become an important part of her weekly routine. Both she and Bernhardt said they are cognizant of the pandemic’s impact on their mental state and make conscious efforts to socialize. Kleisath said she sets her schedule around the Conversations over Coffee class.

“Thank goodness for Zoom and for this particular class. I know lots of folks who are becoming depressed because they are not getting out there and talking to people,” said Kleisath. “I feel socialization is very important right now. I set my alarm. I look forward to it. It’s like, ‘Oh, it’s Thursday. Yay!’ It’s just fun to talk to people in here and stay connected.”

The Conversation over Coffee classes are currently taking place, but registration is ongoing. To take part, visit

About University of Wisconsin-Platteville Continuing Education Institute

The Continuing Education Institute is privileged to be a source for world-class education, skill development, and community programs for personal and professional growth, built on the principle that education should influence people’s lives beyond the boundaries of the classroom. By connecting with the Continuing Education Institute at the Platteville, Baraboo Sauk County, or Richland Center campuses, learners support their local communities.