When she was in her 50s, Virginia Hope embarked on a new career in nursing. At 85, when the rooms in her home needed to be painted, she just did it herself. And at 99, she’s learned how to do a number of new things on her iPhone, including texting, sharing photos with friends and family and using a ride-hailing app.
“I like learning new things,” she says. “The world keeps moving right along and I just want to keep up with it.”
To better master her phone, Virginia turned to Oasis Connections, a digital literacy program that helps older adults improve their technology skills. The training is available in Oasis centers across the network, as well as senior centers and residences, faith-based organizations, job help centers, YMCAs and libraries. More than 114,000 participants have enrolled in the program.
“Digital literacy is essential today for people to access services and stay connected with family and friends,” says National Technology Manager Amy VanDeVelde, who initially helped Virginia get started with Connections.
“When people first come to Connections, we try to assess the level of technology skills they have, so we can help them select classes that truly meet their needs,” says Amy. “This includes asking the student to provide a self-assessment. We see a wide range of needs, from people who are ‘beginner, beginner,’ to those who have pretty sophisticated level of comfort with technology. Frequently, older adults have more skills than they think they do.”
Virginia was no beginner. She already owned an iPhone and was texting. But she wanted to share photos and to be more comfortable managing apps and settings.
“Knowing more about all that I can do with my iPhone makes me feel more self-sufficient,” adds Virginia, who still drives, but likes to keep the ride-hailing app handy for when she wants to travel on highways or further from her home.
“It’s really encouraging to see when an older adult comes to Connections determined to transform the technology they have from a barrier into a tool,” adds Amy. “When that happens, technology is a part of the solution to combat social isolation."
Virginia, who likes to point out that she was born before women could vote, isn’t about to let her age keep her from engaging with others and learning new things. She’s very interested in economics and medicine, and is intentional about staying physically active as well.
“You have to motivate yourself,” she says. “You just get out there and see what there is to do. I try to get as much exercise as I can. I have a treadmill and a rowing machine. Getting out and walking is the best because I can get around and meet my neighbors—fresh air and conversation. I’m still learning and still wanting to learn, which is critical for a long life.” Watch Virginia tell more about her story to KSDK-Channel 5's Allie Corey.
Gaining confidence with help from family and Oasis
Abrehet Yihdego is enjoying retirement by keeping busy with a variety of exercise classes and cooking. Surprised by how busy she is, she realized that if she knew how to use her smart phone more effectively, she would be more efficient.
“I learn best from my brother or my son, Abel,” says Abrehet. “Abel is willing to help, but he lives in New York. We don’t get enough time together and when we do, I don’t want to spend that time solving phone problems.”
Abel searched the internet and found a Connections class that his mother could take in St. Louis, where she lives. Abrehet decided to check out the class for herself, and brought her husband, Haile Zaid, along.
“Taking the class helped me become more confident with my phone,” says Abrehet. “Now I can just use the manual that I got in class when I want to figure something out on my own.”
Parks Smith, a longtime Connections instructor with St. Louis Oasis, says that many older adults rely on family members to help them navigate technology.
“It’s not uncommon for people to struggle learning from or teaching family members technology,” says Parks. “That is one important value that Connections classes provide.”
Since taking the class, Abrehet has mastered a number of skills. She’s texting more frequently and is using more apps. Parks, who was her instructor, enjoyed watching her grow in her skills and confidence.
“It was a joy to watch Abrehet discover how to use her device to interact in numerous ways,” Parks says. “Witnessing those moments is what keeps me teaching!”
Wow moments with Connections
You never know what kind of adventure will happen when someone learns how to use a new technology tool. Sometimes, there is a wow moment.
As an Oasis Connections instructor, retired electrical engineer Eddie Dextraze comes to his classes at the Hollywood Beach Bernice P. Oster Branch of the Broward County Public Library in Hollywood, Florida, prepared for just about any question his older adult students might have about using computers, navigating email, the Internet and countless other topics.
“Most of the people come to these classes wanting to be able to use technology to stay connected with family and friends and to feel safe using the internet,” says Eddie. “A lot of people come with very specific questions or problems to solve, so I start every class asking what those might be. I try to be prepared for just about anything.”
Eddie was not prepared for what happened one day as he showed one of his classes how to use Google Maps, a tool with a functionality to put any location in the world on your computer screen for a virtual visit.
“It’s a fun technology to use,” says Eddie, who will never forget how one student immediately applied the newfound exploratory tool.
“I looked up and noticed this man in the class who seemed overcome with emotion,” he recalls. “Naturally, I went over to see if I could help and then discovered what he was doing. He was a veteran of World War II and had been a prisoner of war in Germany. All that time, he’d never been back to that town and here he was, thanks to learning this new technology, able to stand right in front of the place he’d been imprisoned, right there on the street at the front door. Everyone in the class was moved as he shared the moment with us. It was really something.”
Eddie has taught nearly 200 Connections classes so far. He loves all of it, but especially enjoys things that are visual in nature— digital photography, YouTube and Facebook. The Broward County Library has offered 4,400 Connections classes, reaching approximately 20,000 people since 2010.
Connections is made possible with support from AT&T, CTA Foundation and Charter Spectrum.
Find out more information about Connections.