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Some DeKalb area seniors are catching up with tech

Dick Larson opening up email on his laptop.
Yvonne Boose
Dick Larson opening up email on his laptop.

A 2021 AARP study found that about 79% of those surveyed in their 60s and 72% in their 70s depend on technology like computers and phones to stay connected. But some older individuals don’t know how to use these tools. A northern Illinois senior service group is making it easier for those in its community.

Elder Care Services in DeKalb offers Tech Savvy Seniors Phone Class on the first Friday of each month and a computer class on the third Friday of each month.

Leah Graceffa, the information and assistance specialist at the organization, said there was an increase of people wanting to know how to use their phones. She said there are online options out there.

“But if you don't know how to use a computer, it doesn't make it easy to do an online class,” she added. “So, we kind of put it together and decided that we would do this for them.”

Graceffa said within a month of discussing this, the classes started.

There’s no structure to each class. Graceffa tailors her lessons based on what the seniors want to learn. She explained what some of those things have been.

“We do emails. We'll do like, in my phone class, we learn how to block numbers, because they get so many scam calls,” she said. “And so, we talk about scams, and we do that kind of stuff. And then it just, it's nice, and they like the simplicity of things.”

Dick Larson, 76, said he’s let himself miss out on the technology swing and now he feels left behind.

“I realize I'm just out of the loop. I'm at a loss as to be able to use any of this stuff and I just have to try and bring myself up to date,” Larson explained.

He said taking the classes has taken the fear of technology away from him.

Anna Wenzel, 67, is looking for a job. She’s attending the class to learn computer skills. She said she’s not interested in the phone class at all because she said, “that smart phone is too smart for me.”

“I didn't understand it. And I brought it back. So, it saved me $50 a month,” she said. “I could buy my grandkids diapers. I could take them out to lunch. I could put this money in my belly.”

Seniors learning basic computer techniques
Yvonne Boose
Seniors learning basic computer techniques

Larson is retired but said knowing more about computers will allow him to do more for the organization that he volunteers for.

“There are more things I could do if I could get really functional with it,” he explained. “I did a little bit with it when I first started, but the projects I'm working on don't require it. And there are things I'd kind of like to get involved in that I can't without having the skill to do.”

Graceffa said she also teaches seniors how to use certain apps on their phones.

“I’ve been teaching them how to do like their Northwestern app and stuff, because that's how they communicate with doctors,” she said. “Now, you almost need to know.”

The service provides laptops for the participants to use but many of them bring their own.
Graceffa said as long as the seniors continue to show a need for them, the classes will stay.

  • Yvonne Boose is a current corps member for Report for America, an initiative of the GroundTruth Project. It's a national service program that places talented journalists in local newsrooms like WNIJ. You can learn more about Report for America at wnij.org.
Yvonne covers artistic, cultural, and spiritual expressions in the COVID-19 era. This could include how members of community cultural groups are finding creative and innovative ways to enrich their personal lives through these expressions individually and within the context of their larger communities. Boose is a recent graduate of the Illinois Media School and returns to journalism after a career in the corporate world.