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Past TMF Winner Highlight: Senior Center of West Seattle

a collage of senior citizens enjoying life

Welcome to the sixth part of the Technology Matching Fund & Digital Navigator Cohort Grant blog series! In this series, Seattle IT will be covering the Technology Matching Fund and Digital Network Cohort which is a project to build onto Seattle’s Digital Equity Statement and how qualifying non-profits can apply.

Hearing the word “technology” often intimidates people. This is often true for the elderly. Fortunately, there are organizations that cater towards helping the elderly in many areas, including technology. The Senior Center of West Seattle is a community center where older people get together and engage in programs, classes, meals and other activities. Seattle IT interviewed the Executive Director of the Senior Center of West Seattle, Amy Lee Derenthal. Derenthal says that with everything being online, from restaurant reservations to doctor appointments, it is critical that there is a program that helps people figure it out.

The Senior Center of West Seattle’s program teaches individuals to use Zoom to stay connected to family members. According to Derenthal, there were two main goals for this project, “the goals were to connect with people and having a person to help connect with people and to help teach people how to use their devices.” Given Covid-19, Derenthal explains that “The pandemic kind of launched our knowledge for people that are older to be able to have technology…You [elderly] had to be able to go online.” The inspiration being the importance of connectivity during times of isolation. In pre-Covid times, the Technology Matching Fund (TMF) Grant had been used quite differently “to set up a room for people to come to who didn’t have computers at home and didn’t have technology or Internet, and that’s completely changed. Most people have it [technology], not everyone. For us in West Seattle, we found that in the last five years people are transitioning away from it. We still have the room, and we still have the computers, but the change is these devices and how quickly technology is changing.”

This program has been successful, according to Derenthal it has “impacted people greatly.” One of the stories Derenthal shared with Seattle IT was about Jane. Jane came to the Senior Center of West Seattle with two objectives in mind: to access her unemployment information and learn how to update/access her resume. Because Jane’s desktop was at home, the program utilized the computers in the lab. This allowed the Senior Center of West Seattle to login to the Washington State Employment website after troubleshooting log in and gain access to her unemployment claims to continue receiving benefits. In addition to this, the Senior Center of West Seattle also brought Jane through a mini session on utilizing attachment features on email. However, help provided by the Senior Center of West Seattle does not end there. In the future, they plan on working with Jane to update Word documents to ensure that Jane’s resume is up to date for future work opportunities. Jane’s story is one of the many stories that has been fundamentally impacted by the Senior Center of West Seattle’s program.

Derenthal emphasizes that “talking to seniors and working with them about technology takes a special type of person. It’s not just anyone who can have a good conversation and listen to understand then help lead somebody through how to solve the problem that they came to talk about.” A large portion of the grant The Senior Center of West Seattle was granted went into paying for a digital equity coordinator. Coming in and meeting the digital equity coordinator, along with volunteers, was reassuring for the elderly people. Derenthal calls it “the first step of connecting with people again.” Which allowed them to engage in other programs the Senior Center of West Seattle had to offer and connect with the community.

When asked if she had any advice for people applying for the grant this year, Derenthal advises people to look at the bigger picture and the human element, “I would say what was really helpful to me was to be able to dream a little bit and say okay, what if we could do a Zoom room? What if we could take devices to people in their homes and help them connect with their families and then the biggest piece, I think, is that human being. The digital equity coordinator in getting money for somebody who’s just dedicated to it because again it takes a certain type of person that also has tech background.”

If you did not catch the last part of the Technology Matching Fund and Digital Navigator blog series, you can read about it here:

You can learn more about Digital Equity grants and open houses to receive application support by following this link:

Images courtesy of Amy Lee Derenthal