TechRally keeps seniors current as personal devices change

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Technology ages faster than its users, says Patty Friday.

"I have a TracFone, and I feel like it's a dinosaur," the Oakmont resident, 65, said of her prepaid cell phone, as she was between sessions at last week's Senior TechRally at Longwood at Oakmont, a retirement community.

She was among those of a certain age who attended to learn how to do more than simply talk on a cell phone and how other types of technologically advanced gizmos enhance today's fast-paced lifestyle.

Mrs. Friday, for example, said she especially wants to keep in contact better with her daughters, who live on the West Coast. The event provided an opportunity for her to pick up plenty of pointers in a comfortable environment and with her peers.

"It's something that could be overwhelming or intimidating, but they make it comfortable," she said.

Senior TechRally is an initiative of Atlanta-based Mobile Media Enterprises, an experiential media company partnering with AT&T to bring educational opportunities to continuing-care retirement communities. The concept started as a pilot program in 2011, and Longwood at Oakmont served as one of the venues.

"We've kept in touch since last year, and we really wanted to come back this year," said senior TechRally field manager Jenny LeBrecht, who has been busy coordinating more than 100 such events.

The feeling was mutual.

"They have a really nice way of connecting with older adults," said Michael Haye, Longwood's executive director. "Most of the instructors are young, but they interact well with older adults and listen to the their concerns and questions -- and they don't make you feel ignorant about the technology."

The Senior TechRally setup is conducive to interactive learning. Instructors -- they call themselves "tech guys," although many are women -- sit in the middle of U-shaped tables, surrounded by eight to 10 participants who are free to ask questions at any time.

Each participant is loaned AT&T hardware: a Pantech Flex cellphone and Pantech Element tablet. The tech guys are nearby to help seniors navigate the controls on their devices, starting with something as simple as operating the power button.

"We want to make sure that when they leave here, they don't feel apprehensive or inadequate, or that they're never going to get it," Ms. LeBrecht said. "We find hands-on for each person works a lot better."

While last year's Senior TechRally was primarily for Longwood's residents, the 2012 version was open to the community.

"We thought, why not also make it a good event to attract prospective residents, so they know what a retirement community is all about," Mr. Haye explained. "It's not just a place to go and live out your "golden years." It's also a place to come and be involved, stay connected, be active and learn great things. It's really a win-win for all of us."

Squirrel Hill residents Benno and Connie Bernt, who are on the waiting list to live at Longwood, went to the event with a goal in mind.

"We have an iPad -- we got it as a gift -- and want to learn how to use it," Mrs. Bernt said. "The problem is, there are so many icons we're not familiar with. It takes time to learn."

Mr. Bernt said he was pleased with the results of the seminar.

"For older people who are not familiar with technology, this makes it easy," said Chuck Klingensmith, a Longwood resident, who complimented the TechRally approach.

"Facilitators certainly do not push themselves on you," he said. "They're here as a resource when you need it, but they're letting you work through it. That's how you learn."


Harry Funk, freelance writer: First Published November 1, 2012 9:45 AM


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