Oak Crest residents warm to digital technology

PARKVILLE – When it comes to computer skills, there is little doubt that teenagers and young adults appear to rule the high tech, cyberspace world, but don’t tell that to many of the seniors at Oak Crest.

They may have entered the field late, but they’re determined to match the know-how of their grandchildren, who might have been surprised to witness the scene that unfolded at the retirement community recently.

Seated in a booth inside Oak Crest’s Crestview Hall, Frank Chen watched the screen of a laptop computer, listening attentively as his daughter talked to him from her home in New York City. Outside in the hall, some 50 residents observed the interaction, projected on a giant screen demonstrating Skype, the popular software application which allows users to make voice calls and have video chats over the Internet.

“It’s great,” declared the 90-year-old Chen, who said he and his wife Skype frequently with their daughter and other family members. “This (technology) is not just for young people, we can do this too.”

That was the point of Oak Crest’s first “Digital World Expo” March 18, an effort to advance the digital skills of seniors so they can stay connected with family, track personal finances and health care, and be entertained.

“I can’t believe I spent my whole working career without using a computer,” said 74-year-old Oak Crest resident Brooks Hubbert.

Now the retired CPA has enough computer savvy to teach a basic course for a resident-run computer group. Its 45 members gather regularly in the community’s computer lab to learn not only the basics, such as email and Internet, but more advanced programs such as PowerPoint, spread sheets and desktop publishing.

“Some of the older residents are a little intimidated at first,” Hubbert said, “but once they get the hang of things, and they do that pretty quickly, then they’re excited about the possibilities that the digital world has to offer.”

Zed Hrubec, a 15-year- resident of Oak Crest started the computer learning program in 1996. He recalled that when he first approached the retirement community administration about the idea, response was lukewarm. Amid a lot of growth planning, a computer lab was low on the priority list.

“I told them, all I need is a desk, and that was freely given,” Hrubec said. After the donation of a computer, the learning program grew into a well-equipped computer lab.

While the March 18 seminar included presentations on such topics as protection of online information, Skype, Facebook and digital photography, there was also a booth featuring one of the more interesting ways in which Oak Crest residents have learned to use their new found skills – investigating their family history.

Michael Eder explained that computer technology provided the opportunity to establish a residents’ genealogy group. A former parishioner of St. Margaret, Bel Air, and brother-in-law of Catholic Review columnist Father Joseph Breighner, Eder uses a computer program called Family Tree Maker to track his and other residents’ family tree information, and obtains more information through ancestry.com.

“Many of our residents are really interested in this sort of thing,” Eder said, “and when they learned how to use the Internet, their interest really intensified.”

The 80-year-old is a case in point, as he has published a book about his family history. Eder scanned photos of his relatives, sent the photos to a publisher electronically and for just $5 was able to obtain a printed book of his photographs and family information.

To Hubbert, once computer ignorant and now skilled, the most important advantage for seniors in learning and using the digital world is their new-found ability to reach beyond the confines of their retirement.

“Once they do that,” he said, “then they’re not isolated anymore, and that’s really important. They don’t need to feel lonely.”

Catholic Review

Catholic Review

The Catholic Review is the official publication of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.