Tech-savvy teens teach computers to seniors
Senior Connects plugs residents into e-mail, Internet
By Michelle Browning
Michelle [email protected]
May 27, 2004
INDIANAPOLIS — Several weeks ago, Helen Lenke barely knew how to turn on a computer.
Now the senior citizen is sending e-mails to everyone she knows and plans to start shopping on the Internet.
“I’ve added another dimension to my life,” says Lenke, a resident of Sunrise Senior Living’s Forum at the Crossing in Indianapolis. “Everything these days is computerized, and I’ve always felt left out. But now, I’m not anymore.”
Lenke owes her newfound computer savvy to teenagers. They operate a group called Senior Connects, started by Daniel Kent, a high school freshman.
The enterprising youth already has plans to take his program to the international forum. Last year, he was named one of Indiana’s top-two middle school volunteers of the year, and he’s going for more.
Senior Connects sends volunteers to retirement communities to teach residents everything from how to turn the computer on and how to maneuver the mouse to printing, e-mailing and searching the Internet.
Kent also hopes to establish computer labs in senior communities. The adults are on board, too: The Carmel library donated its training manual, and a local company donated computers.
The Carmel teen, who attends Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School, got the idea for Senior Connects after helping in similar work with seniors at the Carmel Clay Public Library. He wanted to expand his help to older people who couldn’t make it to the library.
“For those that find themselves somewhat shut in, their world seems to become a little smaller,” Kent said. “When seniors are able to access the Internet to e-mail family members, get pictures of the grandkids, research health issues and check on the news, their world becomes a little larger. So I thought, why not bring computers to them?”
Kent and two friends, Carmel High School freshmen Kyle Egbert and Matt May, run the classes on Saturdays. This summer, they hope to expand to weekday classes and get more volunteers. Kent said he already has several other kids interested.
They keep the classes small, usually one or two seniors per instructor.
In teaching, they stress repetition and simplicity and use large fonts on the screen. They get to know their senior students, to ease any intimidation.
A recent class had Sunrise at the Forum’s Jane Wright learning to use the mouse by playing solitaire on computer.
Wright says she always thought computers “weren’t what they’re cracked up to be,” but she’s coming around.
She hopes to learn enough to be able to e-mail her granddaughter.
Fellow resident Edward Grinnan said he wants to be able to buy event tickets on the Internet. He first used a computer back in 1985 for work, but retired that same year and hadn’t used a computer since. He said he finds them “impersonal,” but “my daughter and nieces and nephews say I need a computer so I can e-mail them, so I’m giving in.”
Kent has high hopes to expand Senior Connects nationally and internationally, via a Web site to help other students start teaching in their own communities. There’s advice on getting started, form letters to send to retirement facilities and tips on how to run a successful class. Kent is also writing a manual on teaching computer skills.
He’s applied for grants and is considering a scholarship that would reward a student for his volunteer work.
Daniel’s father, Don Kent, thinks what his son is doing is terrific.
“It’s an opportunity to give back to the community,” he said. “It teaches (the volunteers) leadership skills.”
Helen Lenke, for one, is grateful to Kent and the other volunteers for being patient “with us old people.”
In just a few short weeks, she’s gained a lot of knowledge. She’s already getting complaints from her grandchildren that she’s not e-mailing them enough.
Got old computers?
Anyone interested in donating old computers, monitors and printers to Senior Connects can drop them off at City Hall in Carmel from 8 a.m.-5 p.m. June 14-18. Go to the lobby and the receptionist will direct you where to take the equipment.