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July 20, 2010 > Helping seniors into the computer age

Helping seniors into the computer age

By Miriam G. Mazliach
Photos By Miriam G. Mazliach

Honored on July 6 with a resolution by the Fremont City Council, Ethan Jose, a recent Mission San Jose High School graduate was thrilled by the recognition of the program that he had developed. "Internetting Family," which assists senior citizens in learning computer skills and in general feeling more comfortable with computer usage, has been a popular addition to programs offered at the Fremont Senior Center.

"I thought about how my grandmother likes email and how family is connected through it," says Jose. "More people use computers now to communicate rather than telephoning. But for most seniors, internet connection is too expensive, even though using computers is another form of communication and an important way for them to stay in touch."

With that idea in mind, in 2009, Jose approached the Fremont Senior Center about creating an internet class to help seniors get connected. "The center didn't have computers or internet connection as it was too expensive," says Jose.

He developed a curriculum, and recruited 8-10 student volunteers, including Jonathan Liu who has volunteered since the beginning.

Deborra Lay, Program Coordinator at the Fremont Senior Center, contacted the City of Fremont for Jose. "They were willing to let us borrow the computers they use during tax time and also hooked us up with the internet," he explained. "We got pretty lucky there."

On June 23, 2009, the first class of "Internetting Family" was held. Six seniors and volunteers participated, limited by the number of available computers.

As tax time approached, the computers had to be returned. "We were thinking of ways to fundraise," said Jose. "My aunt, Edna Hidalgo, thought up the idea for a "High Tea" to raise money for the program. After expenses, we made a profit of $1,300."

"Then Kaiser Permanente contacted me and said they would fund our program. They provided us with a grant to purchase eight computers and a projector," added Jose. Kaiser's Health educator, Evelyn Kobayashi, also instructs two of the sessions on how to help seniors find health information on the internet."

"Internetting Family" has a long waiting list for its six-week class program that includes instruction on computer basics, the internet, how to set up email accounts, sites, folders and social networking.

Another positive outcome for seniors is that many studies have shown that learning new things helps retain better and healthier brain function.

On the day following each class, seniors can also drop by the computer lab for additional practice or receive assistance. It's really a 'win-win' situation for all involved as the seniors and the students learn from one another through the cross generational interaction.

For his innovative program and community efforts, KPIX-TV (CBS) recognized Jose and the volunteers with a "Jefferson Award," in October 2009. A presentation and reception was held in San Francisco in which all local award winners met each other and shared ideas about what they had done to help out their communities.

Jose's mother, Diane says, "I am so proud of him for doing a project like this especially since he trains for the Golden Bear gymnastics team 23 hours a week and commutes to Berkeley every day. During the school year he would not get home until 10 p.m. and he still managed to get a weighted 4.0, which you know is not easy in our Mission schools."

In the fall, Jose will be attending the University of Oklahoma, to which he received an "Honors Scholarship." He plans to major in zoology with the ultimate goal of going to medical school. He will also be on the gymnastics team.

Jose hopes that his friend Jonathan Liu will take over and keep the "Internetting Family" program going. "It takes a certain personality and you have to have patience. This is my own creation and I had to make it good. It's caused me to grow and gain confidence," Jose says.

Lui has been volunteering with the program since its inception. "I like being able to help seniors out even though many of them feel "scared of breaking" the computers, just by touching them. I can explain to the seniors that I know something about this," says Liu. "I like that they are learning new things and I now appreciate my past elementary school teachers for being so patient with me."

Deborra Lay says, "I have been so impressed with Ethan, his family and the Internetting Family volunteers who have been working with the Senior Center for over a year now. There has been a wonderful exchange between the generations at these classes, way beyond computers. Ethan has set the example to his volunteers in his dedication and commitment and these young people have made a tremendously positive impression on the older adults who have participated in the program," adds Lay.

Seniors have told Jose, "You've opened up a whole new world for me." "This is just like immediate gratification, seeing the faces of the seniors light up when you've helped them, then and there," responds Jose. "It's heartwarming to know that we're definitely making connections for the seniors to reach out."

Internetting Family Program
Fremont Senior Center
40086 Paseo Padre Pkwy, Fremont
Email: Deborra Lay: dlay@fremont.gov
Ethan Jose: ethan.jose@comcast.net
(510) 790-6602

Donations are always welcome to expand the program and purchase needed equipment. Checks should be designated to "Senior Center Builders Fund," in care of the Fremont Senior Center.

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