BANGOR — How do you help Maine’s older citizens stay mentally alert and socially active, these many months into social distancing? One surprising way is to help them get into online learning.

Penobscot Valley Senior College (PVSC), which has long offered low-cost enrichment courses in area classrooms, made the leap into online learning on Zoom early this summer. Predictably, many members were leery. So the group’s leaders, all senior volunteers, worked closely through the spring with other chapters of the statewide Maine Senior College Network to share methods. Numerous training sessions, phone calls and emails helped hesitant learners get into the new reality.

“A whole new world has opened up for me,” said one enthusiastic nonagenarian after a recent presentation by Penobscot Theatre Company’s Managing Artistic Director Bari Newport. A neighbor and fellow PVSC member helped her get comfortable with the technology, but after a few sessions she was logging in by herself.

Forty to 60 seniors check in every week for weekly presentations in the organization’s summer “Variety Show” series. Varied topics, offered by local experts, include the science of waves and beaches, African-American history in Bangor, aspects of the Bible, German POW camps in Maine and recent Supreme Court decisions, among others.

A second series, “Stories for Our Time” is a weekly online discussion of a selection of short stories by authors as varied as Ursula K. LeGuin and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

PVSC has offered six-week courses for fun and stimulation in fall and spring semesters for 25 years. Taught by volunteer experts in area classrooms, the courses often draw a total enrollment  averaging 175 students.

Putting safety first, this year’s fall courses will all be online. After a summer learning to be online students, PVSC members will be ready.For more information, go to or