Technology program catches on locally
Six years ago, Montgomery County, Maryland, launched a program to help older adults become confident using technology. Called Senior Planet Montgomery, the program offered hands-on courses where participants could learn the basics of computers, word processing programs, how to safely navigate the internet and more.
The training programs were developed by a nonprofit based in Brooklyn, New York called Older Adults Technology Services (OATS). The tremendous success OATS had achieved with its program in New York led to it developing partnerships with communities around the country, including Montgomery County.
Last year, OATS became a charitable affiliate of AARP, enabling the program to continue to grow nationwide and even internationally.
In its first years in Montgomery County, the Senior Planet program gradually grew to the point that 800 seniors a year were taking one or more of its technology courses.
Then came the pandemic. And what happened next was not what you might expect.
Over the course of one week in March 2020, as the pandemic was taking hold, OATS transformed all of its in-person programs to Zoom-based virtual programs that could continue to operate despite Covid.
In Montgomery County, the program served 3,000 participants in the first three months of the pandemic, and has continued to grow rapidly. This year, Senior Planet Montgomery expects to serve 10,000 participants.
The courses teach not only basic technology skills, but also online banking and shopping, cloud storage, how to use streaming services, online health information and fitness, startup business workshops and, through OATS, offers a national tech hotline at 1-888-713-3495 to help seniors get one-on-one assistance — from how to set up an email account to how to troubleshoot specific devices.
For all of these accomplishments, Senior Planet Montgomery was selected as the Best in the Nation Information Technology program by the National Association of Counties in 2021.
‘My self-esteem was boosted’
At a program last month to celebrate Senior Planet Montgomery’s sixth anniversary, County Executive Marc Elrich said, “Access to technology is critical to the health, safety and quality of life of our senior population. For six years, Senior Planet Montgomery has been helping older residents to learn and utilize these technologies…I’m really proud and grateful to Senior Planet Montgomery for enabling our older residents to be part of the digital world.”
At the celebration, a number of program participants were eager to share how much it meant to them. County resident Shu-Cen Yao said, “My self-esteem was boosted, and I have started to teach my husband all the things I have learned…like how to use the timed selfie in my iPad camera and how to turn on the keyboard voice function. Now when I receive some phishing email or spam, I know how to deal with it!”
Retiree James Gutman chose courses about online financial banking and how to use PayPal and eBay. He also learned how to use video chat to better connect with family members and fellow volunteers.
“I am better able to manage my finances, times, family relationships, and the post-retirement activities I have,” Gutman said.
Hans Hangzo took a Wellness Essentials course, which motivated him to choose healthier snacks, track his steps and sleep using a Fitbit. “As a result of the class, I’m exercising more, which has really helped improve my mood every day,” he said.
Free for MoCo residents
Senior Planet Montgomery is free for Montgomery County residents, and now offers both online and in-person classes in English, Spanish and Mandarin at senior centers, libraries, Gilchrist Immigrant Resource Centers throughout the county and at the Chinese Culture and Community Service Center in Gaithersburg.
New lectures and classes begin on July 11, August 8 and October 10, 2022. Visit seniorplanet.org/montgomery to learn more.
Senior Planet Montgomery is operated by OATS in partnership with Montgomery County’s Department of Technology and Enterprise Business Solutions (TEBS), and Department of Environmental Protection.
For Beacon readers living elsewhere in the metro area, contact your Area Agency on Aging to learn about technology services and computer training courses offered near you:
In Prince George’s County, Md.: (301) 265-8450
In Washington, D.C.: (202) 724-5626
In Arlington, Va.: (703) 228-1700
In Alexandria, Va.: (703) 746-5999
In Fairfax County, Va.: (703) 324-7948
Information and quotes provided by Senior Planet Montgomery.