By Leslie Collins
October 14, 2004
Daniel Kent’s heart for older people has transformed lives.
A year and a half after the Carmel youth found a need for computer literacy among older people, he and his friends have collected nearly 600 computers, opened computer labs in Carmel, Indianapolis and Westfield senior-living facilities, and enlisted 20 student volunteers who spend their Saturdays teaching computer classes.
Kent was moved when he learned about a homebound person who could not attend computer classes at Carmel Clay Public Library, where he sat on the Teen Library Council. He called 20 area nursing homes to find out if there was a need for computer classes.
“I found that most facilities would be interested,” said Kent, 16.
With that, he rounded up a handful of friends to start Senior Connects, an organization run solely by kids. The group developed a four- to five-month program, with lessons geared at a comfortable pace for students — some as old as 90 — in one-on-one settings.
“When I started, I thought I’d be giving, brightening someone’s day,” Kent said. “As it turns out, I’ve gotten as much and more than I’ve given.”
One teen volunteer, whose grandparents had died, put it this way:
“When I’m here volunteering, I feel closer to my grandparents.”
Kent feels the same way. So does his buddy Stafford Brunk, a Carmel High School sophomore and one of five core members who helped form Senior Connects. He admits that when Kent pitched the idea, he thought, “Oh.”
His outlook has changed.
“Some people think older people are clueless. But when we go (to senior facilities), there are a lot of really sharp people there. It’s always fun.”
Computer student Helen Lenke lives at Forum at the Crossing on Indianapolis Northeastside and always has cookies ready for the Senior Connects tutors. That’s because they refused to take cash tips or restaurant gift certificates.
They call her Cookie Monster. She calls them “wonderful boys who have the patience to teach us.”
Thanks to that patience, lots of pictures are now zipping through cyberspace in e-mails between 85-year-old Lenke and her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
“It’s added a whole new dimension to my life,” she said, adding that her teachers “make you realize the younger generation are a great bunch of kids.”
Kent, now a sophomore at Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School, spearheaded early on a successful drive to involve business and civic leaders, going all the way to City Hall to enlist support. Hundreds of computers were dropped off by individuals, groups and businesses at City Hall, with the blessing of Mayor Jim Brainard.
He has watched the young people involved. “It’s encouraging and uplifting to see their energy and initiative,” Brainard said. “It provides great hope for the future.”
For its immediate future, Senior Connects aims to collect 1,000 computers by May — Pentium I or newer, please. Kent also hopes to open more computer labs in independent- and assisted-living facilities in the eight-county Indianapolis area.
“We have so many computers, we’d love to find homes for them,” he said.
The new drop-off site is PrimeLife Enrichment in Carmel.
There is no cost to nursing homes to have a lab installed or lessons taught.
In May, Kent applied for nonprofit status for Senior Connects.
“We (want) the not-for-profit status because we do need money to purchase software and for equipment to fix computers.
Though he’s not tracking the numbers, Kent reports that people have responded to his Web site and are starting similar programs outside Indiana.
It’s all been a team effort, says Kent.
“I’m one of 20 high school and middle school students who help. We don’t do this for school or church credit” but for the satisfaction of teaching and befriending their elders.
- Goals: Senior Connects hopes to collect 1,000 computers by May 2005. The drop-off point for used Pentium I or newer computers is PrimeLife Enrichment, 1078 Third Ave. S.W., in Carmel.
- Contact: To inquire about donating computers or having a computer lab installed, send an e-mail [email protected] [email protected] or write to Daniel Kent, Senior Connects, 14044 Honey Tree Drive, Carmel, IN 46032.
Online: To learn more about Senior Connects, visit www.seniorconnects.org.