Technophobes are welcome here

  • Article by: KATY READ , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 31, 2012 - 12:53 PM

Classes at Friendship Village and SeniorNet prove helpful for seniors.

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David Dole, 97, helped Karen Annis, 77, during a monthly computer class at Friendship Village in Bloomington.

Photo: Joey Mcleister, Star Tribune

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At first, Karen Annis was a little scared to use her computer, with all those unfamiliar terms and complex instructions. She worried she might hit the wrong button and wreck the machine.

At 77, change is hard, Annis said. But she made herself keep going and has gradually gained confidence, with the help of a computer class at Friendship Village, the Bloomington retirement community where she lives.

"The more I do it, the easier it gets and the more fun it gets," she said.

Classes are a good way for seniors to learn computer skills, or add to those they already have, in a supportive environment. Students generally start with the basics, progressing as they build competence.

"Last month we probably had 20 or so 'I've never touched a computer' type of people," said Damaris Fredell, the Minneapolis coordinator for SeniorNet, a national nonprofit organization that offers low-cost computer classes to the public. "Once you've been somewhat successful in something, it starts to erase away that fear."

Eventually, students can learn about spreadsheets, word processing, the internet, even Facebook. There's so much you can do on a computer that even experienced users can always add to their knowledge.

Annis' class at Friendship Village includes students with a broad range of skills, said teacher Tim Drenk, president of a Minneapolis group of Apple computer enthusiasts. "I've had people say, 'How do I turn it on,' and I've had people who, shall we say, are more up to date."

At 97, David Dole would be in that latter group. He began using a computer about 30 years ago, back when what passed for a "personal computer" was an electric typewriter connected to a box with a floppy disk. He organized a class for PC users at Friendship Village when he moved there in the early 1990s. Four years ago, Dole switched from a PC to a Mac -- deciding it would be better for handling photos -- and then started an Apple class.

The classes give wary computer owners the courage to venture onto their keyboards, Dole said. "Some people have computers that their kids probably insisted they get, but they don't really use them -- they just sit there."

SeniorNet's classes are held at the Minneapolis Community and Technical College. Classes are held to 10 students maximum, led by an instructor and multiple coaches.

"The oldest person that I remember taking classes here was 96," Fredell said. "People keep on learning. It's good for their brains to exercise that muscle up in their head."

Katy Read • 612-673-4583

  • SENIORNET

    (WWW.SENIORNET.ORG)

    What: SeniorNet, founded in 1986, is a national nonprofit organization that offers public classes on computers and the internet for adults 50 and over. The Minneapolis center has taught more than 3,500 people in the past 12 years, said coordinator Damaris Fredell. A four-week class, including books, costs $25.

    Where: Minneapolis Community and Technical College, Wells Family College Center, 1403 Harmon Place, Minneapolis.

    Info: For more information or registration material, call 612-659-6253 or e-mail Damaris.Fredell@minneapolis.edu.

    Local website: www.seniornet-mpls.org

    Sponsors: The Whitney Foundation, US West Foundation, Minneapolis Community and Technical College (MCTC)

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