- The Washington Times - Monday, June 4, 2012

It’s the ultimate challenge in Internet dating - getting senior citizens hooked up with the Web. Connected Living is one company trying to teach seniors, many with limited Internet experience, how to log on, use social media and connect to families and the outside world.

The Massachusetts-based firm is going into senior group homes across the country to teach residents how to surf the Internet, send emails, share photos and videos, and play games online.

These basic computer tasks - second nature for many who have grown up with smartphones - can be life-altering for senior citizens who have never used a mouse or even logged on to a computer.

“It’s like Facebook for seniors,” Connected Living CEO Sarah Hoit said about her company’s program. “The first thing I hear everywhere I go is, ‘Oh, seniors don’t like technology. They don’t want to do that.’ Well, yes, actually they do.”

The D.C. Housing Authority is sampling the Connected Living program with about 240 residents at Garfield Terrace on 11th Street Northwest.

The senior living home celebrates its first “graduation ceremony” Tuesday, and Mayor Vincent C. Gray will be there to congratulate the residents who went through the program.

Officials hope to expand the program to more of the city’s 15 senior living homes.

“I think, particularly for those who have not grown up with technology, it can be intimidating,” said Adrianne Todman, executive director of the D.C. Housing Authority. “So this experience having someone who is teaching it in a fun, approachable fashion allows them to feel less intimidated and communicate with a tool of today.”

Housing Authority program coordinator Fashad Tyler is working with Connected Living to implement the program at Garfield Terrace.

“The residents are very excited,” he said. “Some of them have never touched a computer before, never even heard of Google or YouTube.”

Take Mary Wardrett, for example.

The 69-year-old, a resident at Garfield Terrace for more than a decade, had never used a computer.

“I really was just sitting at home doing crossword puzzles, reading stories and watching the TV before,” she said. “Now, I can do other things.”

Maelene Johnson, a 61-year-old resident, agreed.

“The computer helps stimulate your mind,” she said. “It gives you a new outlook on life. I’ve learned how to go online, go on Google, go on email, write stories. I’m glad to get into this program.”

Denise Crenshaw, 54, who has been at Garfield Terrace for several years, has had previous experience with computers, so she helps her peers learn.

“I used to work with the mainframes, the big old ones, back in the day,” she said.

Dianne Williams, property manager at Garfield Terrace, is happy to see her community embracing technology.

“It gives them a lot of things to do and look forward to,” she said.

According to a 2011 Pew Research Center study, 47 percent of Internet users ages 50 to 64 and 26 percent of users 65 and older now use social media.

While the number of seniors using social networking sites is growing, others still find it difficult to figure out how to use a computer.

When it comes to technology, Ms. Hoit fears many seniors have been left behind, and she is hoping to bridge the gap. “You cannot leave an entire population out of the conversation,” she said.

But many times that is exactly what happens. Their children and grandchildren forget to call, and they don’t know how to reach out to them through social media and email.

“When folks get older, kids stop calling,” Ms. Todman said. “They might feel isolated, so how do we get them re-engaged?”

The program has convinced officials that seniors are eager for this kind of training.

“No one can tell us now that seniors don’t want to connect,” Ms. Hoit said. “They do, they are, and they will.”

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