Black elders log on for computer fun, jobs

Rebecca S. Rivas | 4/11/2012, 8:24 a.m.

Partnering with OASIS

Boyd worked with OASIS to come up with a program, which is similar to their programs in several other locations around St. Louis.

“She was doing it all on her own,” said Sharon Hales, community outreach manager for OASIS. “We were able to provide her with evidence-based curriculum,” she said.

Now Boyd organizes the classes, and every once in a while, when the teacher can’t make it, she will step in and teach what she knows.

One of the students, Minnie Hall, 88, started taking classes last fall. Recently, she bought herself a computer so she could practice at home.

“I love to try to learn things, and the computer has so many things you would never dream of,” she said. “You don’t get too old to learn, but it’s a slow process.”

As often happens when people face a steep learning curve together, the computer students have bonded.

Last December, the students pulled together funds to throw a holiday party for the teachers. Many have already taken every class available, and they are now starting to take them all again. However, many, including Hall, just pop in unexpectedly whenever they are in the area.

“I enjoy seeing the elderly ladies try to learn,” she said. “It’s the most beautiful thing. As you get older you forget it. They are so sweet to you here.”

From learning to working

While the program started off as a way to connect seniors with their families and technology, it has expanded quite a bit.

As more and more seniors are giving up their retirement time to get back in the workforce, Boyd and OASIS have responded by offering tailored job training skills, Hales said.

ATandT, which sponsors the YMCA’s program, is aware of this trend and encourages the organization to offer computer classes that would help.

“We all know you don’t just walk in and ask for an application anymore,” Hales said. “More often you fill them out online. We have refocused our program so if you want to go back to work, we can help you do that.”

The program helped Patricia Young, 73, who recently obtained a position with Cardinal Ritter High School.

When Young started at the YMCA, she didn’t know anything about computers, she said. As a retired dental assistant, Young said her money from Social Security is not paying the bills.

Young spoke highly of her OASIS teachers. They took her from not knowing how to turn on a computer to feeling comfortable with the various programs, she explained.

“Now I feel I can go out and use those skills,” Young said. “I need to work to help pay these bills. Most jobs you get, they want you to be able to work a computer. This is something I can use and something I really want to do.”

Rebecca Rivas is part of the MetLife Foundation Journalists in Aging Fellowship, a project of New America Media and the Gerontological Society of America. This is the first article in an ongoing series about how new technology is helping African American seniors in social networking, health, community action and small business.