By: Benjamin J. Gohs, Associate Editor
A number of Boyne City officials recently met with members of Connect Michigan, an organization dedicated to helping communities ensure everyone has access and understanding of technology.
According to Connected Michigan Communications Specialist Wil payton, nearly 40 million Americans over the age of 65 are among those least likely to learn or keep pace with new technology, but Boyne City already has several opportunities for the elderly to learn how to use computers.
“I have been teaching classes for about the last four years every Friday at the library,” said Boyne City Mayor Ron Grunch. “We teach all skill levels depending on what a person’s needs are – it’s open ended.”
Grunch, who has worked with computers since the time of the punch-card, said he began volunteering his time and knowledge after he retired from several family businesses.
“I grew up with them,” Grunch said. “We owned and operated four businesses and we were completely computerized for point of sale and managing inventory and finances.”
Grunch said computer skills are integral for people of all ages.
“Job applications and resumes and being able to monitor your children’s computer use – almost everything nowadays has gravitated to the internet,” he said. “Even entry-level jobs require some level of computer use.”
Grunch said the number one use older folks tend to have for computer skills is staying in touch with their children and grandchildren on social networking sites such as Facebook.
Grunch said seniors hesitant to delve into the world of technology could be missing out.
“All of the world’s knowledge is available on Google,” Grunch said. “If you are interested in the Civil War or interested in Bible history you can go back to early writers of the church and find what they wrote verbatim.”
He added, “Quite frankly, people of the radio generation – 70 years old and up – I think the internet is a good way to reduce their costs for reading the newspapers and staying in touch with the world.”
Connect Michigan is a non-profit which has partnered with the Michigan Public Service Commission as part of a larger national goal of expanding broadband access.
Among those in attendance at last week’s meeting was Boyne Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Jim Baumann who said increasing digital literacy isn’t just good for the elderly.
“It seems like an interesting way to build support for broadband,” Baumann said. “And, it will stimulate the economy by getting more businesses and citizens to use broadband internet.”
According to Connect Michigan officials, the Connected Community Engagement program is drilling down to the regional and local level to facilitate community technology planning.
“The program began by gathering provider data to form a statewide broadband map and performing statewide business and residential technology assessments, but has since progressed to working with communities on community plans,” their website states. “Our mission … supports Michigan’s reinvention and technological transformation through innovation, job creation, and entrepreneurship via the expansion of broadband technology and increased usage by Michigan residents.”
Connect Michigan has various grant opportunities, funded in party through U.S. Department of Commerce grants, available for local digital literacy programs.
“They have programs where a community can get certified as a broadband community, so we’re talking about working on the whole county aspect, but each community would do work in its own community,” Baumann said. “Governments would have more e-services available so you could just go online to pay your taxes or get agendas for meetings or get a building permit.”
Grunch said in anticipation of expanded internet access, those who are not computer literate have some relatively easy options to learn.
He said checking the news is probably the best and easiest way for an elderly person to learn to use their computer and basic internet functions.
“Read the newspaper online and in a few weeks of pointing, clicking, closing tabs, minimizing, scrolling – basic functions – you will become a computer expert,” he said.
Grunch said his classes are not only informative and fun, but a great way for seniors to socialize.
“They do as much visiting and meeting new friends by attending these classes as they do learning,” he said.
Grunch teaches his classes at 1 p.m. Fridays at the Boyne District Library. The classes are free of charge.
The Community of Christ Church has a computer lab which is open several days each week to allow people of all ages some computer time if they need it.
Go to http://communityofchrist.giving.officelive.com/Special.aspx for more information on occasional computer classes and regular computer labs.
The Boyne Area Senior Center also has computer classes available.
“The Computer program started as a volunteer class with some used, donated equipment with the help of Senior, Dick Mellon,” said program instructor Chris Wacholz. “Through the help and perseverance of the Boyne Area Senior Center Board, COA and dedicated volunteers, they eventually convinced the Charlevoix County Board of Commissioners of the need for the program.”
In the beginning the classes ranged from basics like vocabulary and simple operations.
Then the classes continued to web searching and emailing.
“In addition to those classes, we now offer classes on Skype, Facebook, Microsoft Word, Excel, and Picture Manager as well as general functions like copy, paste, new folders as well as continually adding new ones based on interest and need,” Wacholz said. “Our classes have all ages of Seniors from 50 to 80-plus, and I think we have even had some in their 90s, but age is not a requirement of the class.
‘She added, “The only requirement is a willingness and desire to learn something new.”
According to Wacholz, people will learn something at the senior center computer classes regardless of their skill level.
“If you have never considered learning about computers, drop in on a class and see what you are missing,” Wacholz said. “It is not necessary to have a computer at home; the lab is open anytime the Boyne Area Senior Center is open for practicing what you have learned.”
She added, “In addition to knowledge about the computer, internet, email and the like, students gain self-confidence in their abilities and enjoy meeting others as well as socializing.”
Call (231) 582-6682 for more information.