Patricia Miller said she was a bit shy when she first started the computer class tailored to the needs of seniors living at Garfield Terrace, an apartment complex run by the District of Columbia Housing Authority.
Once she began the course, though, Miller got caught up with the enthusiasm of her classmates. And as she pressed forward with the coursework, she was able to gain confidence using email, an important tool for staying in touch with her children.
On June 5, Miller and her fellow students were joined by friends, family and neighbors to celebrate as the first graduating class of the Garfield Terrace computer literacy program. A total of 30 residents of the apartment complex completed the computer training course, sponsored by the housing authority and taught by Connected Living, a Massachusetts-based nonprofit dedicated to helping seniors bridge the digital divide to live richer lives.
According to the organization, there are nearly 25 million seniors in the United States who are not yet online, and through the use of programming, the teaching of technology and social support, the organization is working toward the integration of all people into the online community.
That goal fits well with the aims of the city’s housing authority which seeks to assist its residents in ways that go beyond simply offering shelter, according to DCHA Executive Director Adrian Todman, who spoke at the graduation.
“Access to technology is a matter of social justice and provides our residents with an opportunity to have all of the benefits of a connected live,” she said.
Todman portrayed computer literacy as a way of combating isolation and enhancing community life for seniors.
“Garfield Terrace residents now have the ability to participate in areas that matter most to them including education, healthcare, socialization, jobs and bridging the generations.”
To get the program at Garfield Terrace started, DCHA provided four new computers, complete with touch-screen sensors and keyboards with large keys that make it easier to type. Garfield Terrace was able to buy two additional computers, bring the total to six computers that could be used during the technology lessons.
Classes, which were free for the residents, were held three days a week in the new computer café, and the room was available for use on Saturday by everyone in the apartment complex.
Annie Mitchell, president of the Garfield Terrace Resident Association, said the idea for the program at the apartment complex came from a tenant who approached her and asked if there was any way he could get involved with a community program. The conversation made her start looking to see if anyone had connections to an organization that could help improve the technology skills of the residents.
Connected Living, which has worked with housing authorities in 17 states to bring computer literacy to seniors, provided just the kind of help she was looking for. Mitchell said she is proud of how far the program has advanced and the positive impact it has had on the members of the Garfield community.
“Technology is worldwide,” she said. “No matter how old you are, you can learn.”
At the ceremony, District Vincent Gray spoke to the graduates about progress and the impact of technology on everyday life.
“You are all pioneers. You are opening doors to others, to send that message that this cyberspace is not off-limits to anybody,” the mayor told the class of graduates. “This is an exciting moment for our city. It’s exciting to see that we are really and truly turning the term ‘digital divide’ hopefully into a nonexistent term.”
Fashad Tyler, a Connected Living instructor and program coordinator joined by program member Denise Crenshaw read a list of the top 10 things graduates were glad that they had learned during the program.
From “locating the address bar” to “learning what YouTube is and how to use it” , the graduates made it clear they appreciated the opportunity to become more technologically savvy.
Toward the end of the ceremony, graduate Doretha Cavanaugh read two of her original poems. The first poem, “How the Place Was Once,” discussed the introduction of joy into a populace while her other poem, “Trees,” addressed themes of communication and the impact community members have on one another.
As each recipient walked to receive his or her diploma from Fashad — some even taking a moment to do a celebratory dance — friends, family and the community proudly cheered them on. Each participant in the program was given a certificate of completion, and awards such as “most improved,” “hard worker,” and “leadership award” were distributed to select graduates.
Reflecting on her experience in the program, Maelene Johnson said that her favorite parts of the course were when she was able to “learn how to do Google, and if you have the [camera] you can do Skype. And just learning. It’s all fun!
At the graduation event, Johnson was one of nine residents to sign up for another class, a General Educational Development, or GED program, which will be conducted online at the
Garfield Terrace computer lab. The class is expected to offer the residents of Garfield Terrace another graduation to celebrate.