While keeping our senior residents mentally healthy and socially connected has been a prerogative throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for us here at NeighborWorks Blackstone River Valley, bridging the digital gap for residents has been an additional adventure we’ve proudly tackled.
With gratitude to Verizon, NWBRV provided free internet access and Amazon Fire tablets to every resident at our senior independent living development, The Meadows, in Fall 2020. While residents were virtually connected, they were missing a key component – the knowledge of how to best use this technology. Now, thanks to funding from Rhode Island Housing‘s Bridging the Digital Divide program, the 88 residents at the Meadows have beefed up internet service, and, most importantly, a key educational partnership with The Providence Public Library. The goal of digital inclusion is quickly becoming a functional reality as senior residents are learning the basics of their tablets from the ground up.
“We are thrilled to be a part of this exciting partnership that is removing barriers for seniors who want to access the internet to explore new opportunities, access critical information and resources, and remain in contact with family and friends during a time that can be isolating for so many,” said Carol Ventura, Executive Director of RIHousing. “The COVID-19 pandemic greatly accelerated the shift to online services and virtual connections. Digital access has become a necessity for participation in society and economic and emotional well-being.”
Thanks to Rhode Island Housing, residents at The Meadows now have access to in-person tech classes designed by Lina Bravo, the Learning and Career Coach and Workforce Development Coordinator at PPL. Twice a week residents are gaining the skills needed to utilize their tablets to their fullest potential.
“COVID-19 negatively impacted the lives of senior citizens who were ready to enjoy their retirement and free time with their loved ones after working hard and growing their families,” Lina expressed. “They found themselves isolated with little to no access to a digital world that is new and scary for many of them. The Providence Public Library is helping those seniors develop digital skills to become digital citizens and enjoy the advantages of using technology in their lives.”
In true digital fashion, it was a basic Google search that led Meadows Resident Service Coordinator Millie Lukens to the National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA) and The Providence Public Library, where the collaboration between NeighborWorks and PPL Education Director Christopher Bourret was born. As the Providence Public Library already employed individuals to teach the ins and outs of digital devices, bringing the education to The Meadows proved a seamless and successful partnership.
August’s inaugural classes started with the basics. Covering everything from powering on the devices, discovering device content, learning terminology, and exploring the settings. This gave the senior residents the confidence and education necessary to focus on their next digital challenge–the dauntingly unintuitive, yet massively helpful, Alexa app.
“There’s so much regarding Alexa for them to learn and understand,” Millie explained. “They’re already discussing what they’ve learned so far, and are pleased with their steady progress. They’ve even been provided homework to reinforce the nitty gritty basics of their devices. I think this collaboration is going to be a real success.”
As excitement for this education quickly builds at The Meadows, residents Claire Biron and Diane Cheever spoke enthusiastically of the weekly classes and visiting educators, echoing Millie’s sentiments and adding their own.
“I’m enjoying the education very much, one step at a time,” Claire expressed. “It’s very helpful!”
“Let me tell you what I like,” Diane added. “It is so good that we are starting from the beginning like we don’t know anything. I want to learn everything. I’m taking in what she’s telling me from the beginning. As we go along, I know we will all get what we personally need and want out of the tablets after we learn the basics!”
With many COVID-19 social distancing requirements currently lifted, NWBRV and The Meadows are immersed in the exciting future opportunities the community’s in-person digital education will offer. While pandemic uncertainty appears here to stay for the remainder of 2021, our goal of Bridging the Digital Divide at The Meadows will hopefully lessen any future isolation COVID-19 inflicts on senior residents.
“Millie does a great job with programming for health, entertainment, and education,” Lina said of the Meadows proactive Service Coordinator. “When I started working with seniors citizens during COVID-19, someone asked me why is it important for PPL to work with this population if they are no longer in the workforce. My response was that this is not about work, it’s about quality of life. And no one should be left behind due to the digital divide.”
A senior citizen told me once the golden years of adulthood are not really golden; friends pass away, some family members have no time for visits, and age-imposed physical, and emotional limitations appear. Despite those negative things that we cannot change, I believe that we should concentrate on the positive things and new experiences that can make those golden years bright. Especially living in a NeighborWorks community like The Meadows, where there are people that care.Lina Bravo, Providence Public Library
For more information on this affordable development for individuals 62 and over, please contact property manager, First Realty, at 401-762-0600 to learn more, or pick up an application at the Meadows, One Village Way, North Smithfield, RI.