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Thursday, May 2, 2024

‘Closing the Digital Divide:’ Residents in Elder Outreach Program Participate in LBFE Boston | Little Brothers – Friends of the Elderly Course

“I always backed away from getting into computers,” said South Boston native and longtime resident, Mary Orecchio, with a chuckle.

At 88 years old, Mary has lived many years without feeling the need to dive into the world of Zoom, Spotify, or Chat GPT.

When she learned about the computer training course being offered in South Boston’s Foley Apartment Complex, where she has lived for 20 years, however, she said, “Let me give this a try and give myself up a step up in this world.”

Mary is one of a dozen or so Foley residents who have been participating in an ongoing computer skills training offered to individuals in Catholic Charities Boston’s Elder Outreach Program.

Directed by Paul Brown, Catholic Charities Boston’s Elder Outreach program provides free social support, counseling, home visits, assessments, outreach, education, and consultation to individuals living within South Boston’s BHA-funded elderly housing.

The computer training class – Digital Dividends – is one of four programs offered by the nonprofit organization Little Brothers -Friends of the Elderly and is part of a larger initiative in Boston to close the digital divide.

“Since 1979, LBFE Boston has sought to alleviate social isolation among older Bostonians. Today our work centers on intergenerational, technology, and arts programming in senior housing and senior centers. Our innovative range of on-site social and educational opportunities help Boston’s older adults learn new skills and build new social connections within their communities,” says Executive Director, Cynthia Wilkerson.

Typically consisting of 10-15 students, the Digital Dividends class is offered at affordable senior housing facilities throughout Boston, with the goal of increasing low-income, older adults’ access to everyday vital technology. In addition to providing every student with a Chromebook, internet connectivity, and weekly training by LBFE Boston staff and volunteers, free of charge, the class aims to combat loneliness and offer students a space to forge new connections in their community.

“LBFE Boston continues to expand our work supporting older adults, especially those who face economic and linguistic barriers, in accessing devices, internet connectivity, and training and support,” says Teresa Yao, Digital Dividends Senior Program Manager at LBFE Boston. “We’re proud to be part of efforts across Boston and Massachusetts to close the digital divide and to create a more equitable landscape for everyone.”

Gerri Cummins, who has lived at Foley for 20 years, said she is so grateful she signed up for the LBFE Boston class. While her children had given her a laptop, Gerri said she struggled for a long time to navigate its many features on her own. As treasurer of the task force at Foley, Gerri said she used to have to hand-write posters and flyers with updates and upcoming events. Now, thanks to the class, she is able to design and print posters off of her Chromebook.

“I can’t say I am an expert, but I think I’m a little bit better off and know a bit more than I did before,” she said. “And the teachers are all great.”

Christian, a student at Boston College who has been volunteering in the class at Foley, said the most rewarding aspect of being involved in the program is seeing the impact they are having every week.

“I’m a computer science major and I began volunteering because I thought it would overlap well with my major, but when I got here, I found that there is a population of people who have a desire to be connected to the world but don’t necessarily have the support and resources that I do,” he said. “We are serving them in a way that they have not been served before.”

To learn more about Catholic Charities Boston’s Elder Outreach program, click here.

To learn more about the incredible work of LBFE Boston, click here.

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