Older generations use area services 
to tackle technology

Dorthy Johnson (left) of Huntley gets one on one help from Bruce Wallace of Oakwood Hills during a computer class for seniors at Crystal Lake Senior Services on Tuesday, May 15, 2012. The computer class is offered every Tuesday from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m.
Dorthy Johnson (left) of Huntley gets one on one help from Bruce Wallace of Oakwood Hills during a computer class for seniors at Crystal Lake Senior Services on Tuesday, May 15, 2012. The computer class is offered every Tuesday from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m.

At 70 years old, Dorothy Quella just bought her first computer.

The two are getting to know one another.

“The other day, I took it out of the package, and I stared at it for an hour because I didn’t know what to do with it,” the Crystal Lake senior said with a laugh.

She brought it to a computer training class this week at Senior Services Associates in Crystal Lake.

With some help, she created her own Facebook page, complete with a smiling picture taken by the computer’s web camera.

“This is all my family does,” she said of the social network. “And it’s the only way I ever get any information.”

Quella also sent out her very first email.

“Every time I work on it, I’m a little sharper. I’m a little better,” she said. “This is going to be good for me, I can tell already.”

Quella wouldn’t consider herself tech-savvy, but she is one of a growing number of seniors learning how to use computers and other technology. They’re taking advantage of numerous programs and classes offered through senior centers, libraries, senior clubs and schools, including McHenry County College.

They’re doing it to search the Internet, connect with family and friends or simply because one of their children gave it to them.

Through the Shah Center in McHenry, the college’s center for corporate training and the Illinois Small Business Development Center, older adults and displaced workers can learn basic computer skills.

The “Welcome to the World of Computers: Silver Series” draws a steady number of students who learn everything from navigating the internet and email to word processing, said Pat Kallaus, coordinator of Business Solutions at the college.

“It’s more for the person that needs that head-start. A lot of people didn’t have it in school,” she said.

At 51, Kallaus said, she knows many older adults have never used computers, but in this day and age, technology is everywhere.

“I don’t know how they function without it,” she said.

Even at a wake she attended, guests had to check in using a touch-screen computer.

“I think we’re going to get to a point where you at least have to have basic skills to function at the bank, the grocery store, that type of thing,” she said. “Obviously you can navigate, and there’s always someone to help. At some point, if you want to get going quickly, you have to understand and not be afraid.

“Removing the fear is the biggest thing. It’s not going to blow up on you. You’re not going to break it.”

Now 88 years old, Joyce Mohr of Johnsburg started learning how to use computers around age 70. She still uses her computer to make calenders for the McHenry Senior Citizen Club and cards for friends and family.

She hasn’t had to buy a card for at least a couple decades, she said.

She remembers taking a computer class when she first started and repeating it at least once.

“Computers were the thing, so I decided I should learn,” she said. “When I bought mine, I didn’t even know how to turn it on.”

Now she said she uses it regularly.

“If you don’t practice, you don’t learn,” she said.

At Senior Services in Crystal Lake, some seniors remain resistant, but a computer class now over-flows, Activity Director Claudia Aquilina said. The program began with eight computers in a small room. Now, at any given time, those computers are full, and eight to 10 more people are sitting outside the computer room on laptops.

A free service, instructors walk around helping seniors with individual needs.

“I do see it growing,” Aquilina said. “There are still going to be seniors that will never own a computer. I think the fear of it with the older set is going away.”

At age 74, Bill Markison used to teach computers to seniors out of his home and now volunteers to help them at the center.

They come for numerous reasons.

One senior likes to listen to music from around the world, exploring YouTube and other sites.

Another wants to know why the DVD player on her computer isn’t working.

Another is creating a family tree and interested in genealogy sites.

Others want to look up their medicines or learn how MapQuest works.

One of his students, who’s now 104, has been coming in for the past decade, said Markison, and “does terrific things on the computer.”

“The people coming in want to learn something, and that’s half the battle,” he said. “Some people get to a point and don’t have a capacity to learn these things. They have a resistance to technology and things of that nature. ...

“Anybody can learn if they have a desire to learn.”

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