Northwest NEWS

February 22, 1999

Features

Seniors go cyber with encouragement from Microsoft and Boeing

by Deborah Stone

   Seniors in King County want access to and knowledge about the world of computers. With the generous support of Microsoft and the Employees Community Fund of Boeing Puget Sound, computer labs have been established at various senior centers around the area. Substantial funding grants from these companies have allowed Senior Services to accomplish two major goals: a dynamic website for seniors in the community and a senior learning center project.

   The website provides access to resources for older adults and provides expanded communication between Senior Services' downtown office and the senior centers. The site, www.seniorservices.org, got up and running last year. It has been visited by individuals from countries as distant as the United Kingdom, Germany, Japan, and Australia.

   The Senior Learning Project makes it possible for seniors to learn the computer skills and Web access techniques that are becoming more necessary in this technology-dependent society. By locating labs in senior centers, people are taught in comfortable settings by those who are already trained to work with older adults.

   Senior Services' first center-based computer lab was established at the Northshore Senior Center in Bothell in 1992. Classes quickly filled as the demand for instruction in computer basics, introduction to Windows, word processing, spreadsheets, data management, and Internet access increased. Within a short time, many seniors were requesting advanced training with Word, Excel, and desktop publishing, as well as with advice about which computers to buy for their homes.

   "We now have about sixty computers between the center in Bothell, two day centers in Northshore, and in the newly created lab space in Mill Creek," says Barbara Berry, Information Systems Specialist for the Northshore Senior Center. "Computer classes are a major draw for seniors, and we offer classes in the mornings, afternoons, evenings, and sometimes on the weekends. Many of our adults take more than one class and continue on with their learning. They are motivated to learn about computers and find they have so many uses."

   According to Berry, seniors enjoy sending e-mail, surfing the Net to do research, doing their taxes or home inventory, and even writing their memoirs. She estimates that about 1,500 seniors a year are enrolled in classes at the four sites in the Northshore area.

   "It's important to note that we would not be able to have such a program without contributions from generous companies or the assistance from our dedicated volunteers," comments Berry. "Our own seniors who are retired, perhaps with computer savvy, or just a passion for computers, volunteer their services to teach classes, design curriculum, and set up and maintain the equipment. We currently have over twenty-five instructors."

   Labs are now operational at senior centers in West Seattle, Carnation, southeast Seattle, and Ballard. With the assistance of the Boeing Employees and Microsoft, a computer lab will soon be open in the Greenwood Center in North Seattle. At the Northshore Senior Center, a brand-new Gateway 333 was recently delivered, courtesy of the grant from Boeing Employees.

   Senior Services is the largest organization offering a comprehensive and coordinated array of support services to senior men and women throughout King County. The agency already serves more than 70,000 seniors each year, and this population segment is now growing faster than any other.

   The website and computer labs are making it possible for Senior Services to further expand their service to the community and to increase access to their programs and to the information needed by seniors.