Merlene Davis: School children help senior volunteers learn computer skills

Herald-Leader columnistJanuary 29, 2014 

  • IF YOU GO

    What: Free introductory computer tablet class for seniors sponsored by AARP and the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government's Office of Aging and Disability Support.

    When: 9:30 a.m.- 1 p.m. Wednesdays.

    Where: Charles Young Community Center, 540 East Third St.

    Information: Contact Alexis Edge at (859) 246-0281, aedge@lexingtonky.gov.

I definitely got more than I was expecting when I visited the Charles Young Community Center, looking for the AARP volunteers who are teaching folks like me how to use computer tablets.

I thought I would find someone standing at the head of the class lecturing, while older students sat at desks listening.

Instead, I found Doreen Ward, 79, sitting at a table with Myrte Nudd as she demonstrated an iPad and a Trio.

Ward was trying to decide which tablet to buy and came to the class looking for help in making that decision.

"I want to buy one of these small things, but I don't have any idea," Ward said. "My son has a laptop, but I want something smaller."

When asked what she planned to use it for, she said, "Not much. Check my email and Facebook. I did sign up for Twitter, but I never got on that. I want to find out which suits me best."

Nudd, a retired Xerox employee who for years has trained people to use computers, said she wasn't familiar with tablets until a group of students taught her.

She and Ward had a brief discussion about having a USB port and why that might be important.

"Is that where the flash drive goes?" Ward asked. "My son has one of those for his laptop and he takes it with him."

Ward was the first student for the free classes designed to help people 50 and older use tablets and to better navigate websites that could be valuable resources for their age group.

Alexis Edge, supervisor of the seniors' program at Charles Young for the Lexington Fayette Urban County Government's Office of Aging Services, said the classes are unique in Kentucky because the AARP volunteers were trained by students from The Learning Center at Linlee, an alternative school for grades 7-12. Linlee offers students smaller class sizes and the opportunity to have academics and real-world experience work together, like this one.

"We wanted to do something that has rarely been done," Edge said. "Connecting seniors with young kids."

AARP sent a mailer to members asking for volunteers willing to train on tablets and then teach fellow seniors what they had learned. It is one of many programs AARP offers at Senior Centers.

In September, students from The Learning Center taught the volunteers and the eight volunteers then played with the computers to become more familiar with them.

Did those young students laugh at you? I asked.

"No, they didn't laugh," said Genie McFall, a retired therapist for Bluegrass.org, formerly Comprehensive Care, who is also a volunteer. Laughing, she added, "They probably wanted to."

Then, Ward, McFall, Nudd and I began discussing how intuitive young people seem to be when it comes to computers. Each of us was schooled by someone much younger.

It was that connection that transformed the uncertain environment of technology into one of camaraderie. Most older adults hesitant to learn about computers should feel safe and welcome there.

"I didn't have much experience until this particular class," Nudd said. "The young people from The Learning Center helped me."

And now she is more than willing to help others like herself.

"If we don't know the answers, we'll find out," she said.

The class is held from 9:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Wednesdays at Charles Young. Classes are canceled when school is out because of weather.

It was a lot of fun, and not the least bit scary for an introductory course.

"Having us being closer in age is less intimidating," McFall said.

Merlene Davis: (859) 231-3218. Email: mdavis1@herald-leader.com. Twitter: @reportmerle. Blog: merlenedavis.bloginky.com.

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