Senior Planet: First-of-its-kind tech training center gets older adults online
Scrolling through a screen bearing numerous five-star reviews, Barbara Nathan is all smiles. “I try to see how many consecutive fives in a row I can get,” she says. “[...]That’s how I start every day, opening my computer and looking at my record.”
Nathan is a recent addition to the freelance writer economy, though she may not be your typical stringer. Nathan was unemployed for over a decade after leaving her job in 2000 to tend to health problems and an ailing mother. At age 67, she decided to jump back into the workforce.
“Part of it was the money running out,” said Nathan. “But more importantly, I needed to feel a sense of accomplishment, that I had a place in this world [...] I was tired of going to social service workers and asking for help. I wanted to feel that I could still do something useful.”
But Nathan is one of many older adults confronted with a generational divide between post-millennial “digital natives” and older “digital immigrants”. As the internet age plows forward, many seniors are seeking resources and training to get up to speed. So many, in fact, that New York City’s Department of Aging reports that people over 60 are the fastest growing segment of computer and internet users.
Enter the Senior Planet Exploration Center, the nation’s very first tech-themed center for people over 60. The center was launched in March 2013 with a combination of city, federal and corporate funding, and a mandate to train older adults in the digital revolution.
“[W]e’re more than just a training location. What we’re really trying to do is change the way that we age. And so we adopted this slogan called ‘Aging With Attitude’,” said Thomas Kamber, Executive Director of the New York-based nonprofit, Older Adults Technology Services, or OATS.
OATS runs 23 community-based technology labs across the five boroughs. The labs help increase access to resources and training for older adults, including an expanding older immigrant population. After teaching over 11,000 classes through these partnership sites around the city, OATS staff saw a clear need to build community around technology. Senior Planet was launched and lines started forming at the doors soon after.
Kamber said that over a hundred people attend the center’s free classes and workshops each day. Programs cover a range of topics from learning to use a computer and mouse to navigating social media. The center’s website, SeniorPlanet.org, also offers an events calendar and simple tech tutorials in blog format.
The center also offers a shared learning environment and community which seniors can leverage for networking and job skills training. Kamber said that a quarter to a half of Senior Planet students are seeking workforce-related skills.
“What’s happening today is a large number of older adults who are more chronically dislocated from the workforce are slowly trying to get back in and as the unemployment rates are falling, they’re becoming more attractive to employers who are realizing they show up on time, they’re literate, they can write, they have contacts in the industries, they have specialized technical knowledge,” said Kamber.
In March 2013, Barbara Nathan completed Senior Planet’s AT&T-sponsored 5-week course, “Job Searching in the Digital Age.” She then went on to secure a number of freelance writing jobs through the website, Elance.
“It’s almost like being back in grade school again, but it’s a wonderful feeling getting this kind of positive reinforcement… and it tells me, yes, I can do this, and keep doing this,” said Nathan.
To learn more about OATS and the Senior Planet Exploration Center, you can visit the links below:
- Where: 127 W. 25th Street between Sixth and Seventh Avenues. Click here for directions.
- When: Monday – Friday 10am-4pm
Questions? Call 646-590-0615
Register for Courses
Senior Planet holds quarterly in-person registration sessions. Visit the website to learn more.
To receive an alerts regarding open registration, you can sign up for the weekly Senior Planet events email. Click here to sign up.
OTHER RESOURCES from NYC Department for the Aging:
Computer Classes offered by Older Adults Technology Services (OATS)
OATS provides free computer training in communities across New York City. Topics include researching health information online, accessing city services, workforce skills, staying safe online, and civic engagement. For more information, call 718-502-9203.
Computer Classes at Senior Centers
Many senior centers offer free computer classes and use of computers to their members. Call your local center to inquire.