Brebeuf senior teaches computer skills to those who need it most
By Robert Annis
November 15, 2006
CARMEL — Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory senior Daniel Kent volunteers because he has a passion for it and thousands of central Indiana residents are reaping the benefits.
The 18-year-old Carmel resident shares his computer and Internet knowledge with seniors, underserved school children, low-income families, parents, school and church groups.
“At first it (volunteering) was a chore, then it was a duty and now it’s a passion,” he said, noting that both of his parents have encouraged him to volunteer for years.
While serving as a volunteer instructional aide for a computer class at Carmel Clay Public Library five years ago, Kent struck up a conversation with one of the seniors taking the class. The man told him he knew several people who wanted to take a class but couldn’t because they lived in retirement homes or were wheelchair-bound and didn’t have reliable transportation.
This struck a nerve with Kent, he said, so he decided to find a volunteer organization that could help. Finding none, he started his own nonprofit group, Senior Connects.
Kent spends most Saturday afternoons either refurbishing computers at Sanders Glen Retirement Community in Westfield or teaching seniors at Summer Trace Retirement Center in Carmel. Public computer labs have been started at each independent-living facility in Hamilton County with computers from Senior Connects.
Senior Connects classes are typically small — usually five students working one-on-one with five teachers. Over a course of three to four months, seniors are taught basic computer skills, Internet techniques and how to send e-mails and digital attachments.
“I enjoy listening to their stories and being around them,” Kent said of the thousands of seniors he’s helped. “Nothing makes me happier than seeing a senior receive their first e-mail from a family member or longlost friend. Their smiles are the best part.”
Senior Connects is now part of a broader Net Literacy network that includes Youth Connects, Computer Connects and Safe Connects. Youth Connects helps underserved school children. Computer Connects helps economically disadvantaged families in low-income housing neighborhoods. Safe Connects teaches Internet safety to parents and school and church groups.
Kent estimates that up to 50,000 people in the Indianapolis metropolitan area now have computer access because of his group. Most of the 2,000 computers donated to the program are older Pentium II and III models, but are refurbished and perfectly adequate for the people using them.
Senators Richard Lugar, R-Ind., and Evan Bayh, D-Ind., are the honorary cochairpersons of Net Literacy and the group’s board includes mostly adults. About 150 school-age volunteers help run the program, he said.
“Students gain computer expertise and develop leadership skills,” Kent said.
Kent, who last month won an award from the National Caring Institute for his work with Net Literacy, said the group has received more than $700,000 in grants to complete its mission.
Net Literacy will soon expand to Carmel and Westfield high schools, and also across the continent. Kent has been contacted by people in San Jose, Calif., Syracuse, N.Y., and Winnipeg, Canada, about starting up branches in those cities.
When he goes to college next year — he just started the application process and is primarily looking at schools on the East Coast — he hopes to start a branch wherever he lands.
The group’s Web site, www.netliteracy.org, has a host of free resources for people wanting to start their own version of the program. He hopes to spread the program across the country in the next five to 10 years.
Call staff writer Robert Annis at (317) 444-5572