Senior centers are getting residents comfortable with computers

Posted: April 23, 2011

Computers used to spook Carole Henrich.

A touch of the wrong button, the 74-year-old resident of Maris Grove retirement community in Glen Mills feared, and she'd erase everything.

No more.

She now pays bills, checks the weather, maps out her weekly meal plan, and keeps in touch with friends and family, all with the click of the keyboard.

"It's so easy once you get started," Henrich said. "I've never been a mechanically minded person. There is nothing to be afraid of; it doesn't take a whole lot of smarts."

What changed?

Henrich learned how to use a computer by taking classes at Maris Grove. She started by learning how to surf the Web. Then she set up an e-mail account. Now she prints out pictures from her grandchildren's Facebook pages to show her friends.

Maris Grove offers residents varied computer instruction, from using e-mail to online banking and social networking. Some residents even learn to manage their financial portfolios online.

Retirement communities throughout the area are doing the same.

Cathedral Village in Philadelphia has been gradually expanding its WiFi access to accommodate new residents, and Ann's Choice in Warminster offers its residents a computer nutrition program that allows them to maintain healthy diets.

"Nine out of 10 new residents come in with laptops already," Cathy Ng, executive vice president of Cathedral Village, said. "This did not happen 10 years ago."

It has taken a while for seniors to open up to computers, but they are eager to learn, said Karen Strauss, a computer instructor who specializes in baby boomers and senior citizens.

Once they do, she said, they find they are instantly connected with family and friends.

"It's the best way for grandparents to stay connected with their grandchildren," Krauss said.

Maris Grove began offering computer classes after residents began to voice interest in computers, Jennifer Allen, 32, senior communication services manager, said.

Many of the classes are taught by Clarence Lynn, 83, a retired teacher who has lived at Marris Grove since 2006.

"I got here on a Sunday, started teaching on Thursday, and I've been doing it ever since," Lynn said.

He has taught a retired biblical scholar how to do research on the Internet. He also helped a woman map a route to Exton, where she met her son for lunch. Now he has been getting requests to teach a class on how to use Skype, which allows users to call or video chat with anyone around the world free.

Since learning how to use a computer, Henrich uses Facebook daily to keep in touch with cousins in British Columbia, nephews in California, and her grandson in Kentucky.

She still is waiting for her 16-year-old granddaughter to accept her Facebook friend invitation, however.

"She's a sophomore in high school," Henrich said, "and I guess it isn't popular to be friends with your grandma."


Contact Gustavo Solis at gsolis@phillynews.com.

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