Giving senior citizens a window on the world of computers


June 16, 2000|By Lourdes Sullivan | Lourdes Sullivan,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

IT'S A brand-new world as the new millennium approaches, and for those of us over a certain age, it seems that some of the science fiction came true.

Dick Tracy's watch radio is today's cell phone. Every kid plays with computers. And some of us feel left behind. No more.

The generation that adapted to Japanese cars, microwave ovens and wrinkle-free fabric can adjust to computers, too. Of course, it does help to have a bit of guidance. Thanks to the Savage Senior Center and Computer Seniors of America (CSA), seniors can learn the finer points of using a computer.

CSA offers introductory classes and specialized ones, such as word processing, advanced typing and page setting. The group, formerly called PC Seniors of Howard County, consists of a dozen or so retirees who, in the words of chairman Victor McGonegal, are learned and patient.

"We pride ourselves on making the complex simple and fun," he said.

The group was formed when McGonegal found himself with too much spare time after his retirement from IBM in 1992. He had been with the company for more than 25 years and had taught at Computer Learning Centers.

"I was involved in a number of enterprises with the Civil Air Patrol, and then the next thing I knew I wanted to share what I knew," McGonegal said. "I started teaching with a predecessor of this group in Prince George's County. I found out that seniors, those 55 and up, who had missed the computer boom have an aversion or fear of computers, like there's something mysterious. Most don't want jobs [in the computer field]; they want to be competitive with their kids and grandchildren."

He and his wife, Elaine, stress that the Computer Seniors of America are patient. Often, seniors try to learn computers from family members, and this often does not work out. McGonegal knows this from personal experience. A few years before retiring, he learned to fly. His son, Steven, a flight instructor, taught him. While McGonegal earned his license, he said he and his son agreed to never do anything like that again.

"It changes the family dynamic," said Victor McGonegal.

CSA teachers are aware of the needs of seniors. Retired themselves, the members have extensive computer knowledge and, in many cases, have been teachers.

Richard Roberts taught at the University of Maryland, Maureen Cronin taught data entry. Other instructors include Larry Feather, Roger Stevens, Bill Ewart, Jack Fogarty, Rachael Brunstead and Robert Harris.

For eight years, the group has instructed more than 400 seniors how to buy a computer, how to run Microsoft Windows, how to use word processors and how to connect to the Internet. Class size is kept low: six students at Florence Bain Senior Center and four each at the Savage and Elkridge senior centers. Because CSA is run by volunteers, the classes are free. A small fee is charged to use the computer laboratory at Florence Bain Senior Center.

CSA is always on the lookout for volunteer instructors.

CSA information: 301-490-4579.

Savage Senior Center information: Edith Bennett, 410-880-5915.

Reading challenge

In February, Laurel Woods Elementary school fourth-graders wrote to Gov. Parris N. Glendening with ideas on how to make schools better.

His answer included a challenge to read daily and to fill out a challenge card.

Among those who rose to the challenge and excelled are Alyssa Blasko,Greg Dickerson, Brenae Fletcher, Casey Forsyth, Torrence Love, Bilal Malik, Danielle Oladele and Aryah Rajaee.

Soccer registration

The Savage Boys and Girls Club is taking registration for the fall soccer program.

Teams are available for children born before July 31, 1996, in co-ed and single-sex teams, as well as travel teams.

Walk-in registration will be held from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. June 24 at the Savage Park concession stand.

Registration forms are available by mail.

Information: 301-604-8308.

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