By Marianne Weaver
T.J. McCallum, Ph.D., associate professor in the department of psychological sciences at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, found that older adults who learn basic computer skills are more likely than their peers to stay connected, feel uplifted and feel generally more fulfilled. His study, “The Impact of Tablet Usage on Social Engagement among Older Adults,” published in 2013, involved 50 senior citizens with an average age of 80. Half were given tablets and training, half were not. After three months, he stated, the tech group displayed significant improvement in several areas, especially
computer-driven social engagement and optimism, as well as problem-solving ability unrelated to tablet use.
This came as no surprise at all to Corliss Udoema, founder and president of Manassas-based Agape Love in Action Inc. (ALIA), a nonprofit organization focused on helping the homeless, supporting veteran-owned businesses and empowering senior citizens. Drawing from her experience as a government employee and president and CEO of Contract Solutions Inc., which was selected as one of the 5,000 Fastest Growing Private Companies in America by Inc. Magazine in 2017, Udoema created Wisdom
Meets Technology (WMT), a program ALIA provides to teach computer skills to seniors and help them connect with family and friends. As found in McCallum’s research, Udoema said the seniors participating in WMT benefitted from a greater connection with family, friends and the world around them.
The Pilot Program
Udoema initiated a pilot WMT program in North Carolina, but she stopped the program after moving to Prince William.
She said she was motivated to restart the program in 2016 after talking to a friend. “She had lost her husband, and she didn’t know how to do anything on the computer. She had to rely on her grandson,” she said. “I wanted to help.”
The current WMT program is the same as that original pilot program. The curriculum covers navigating the Internet, checking online bank accounts, paying bills online, using email and working with Microsoft Word documents.
Earline Harris was among the first seven students to graduate from the program. She said she learned how to pay bills online and search for pretty much anything.
“It has truly been a blessing,” she said. “And I can find almost anything I want to find.”
Setting up in Prince William
Udoema said she knew she wanted to add WMT to ALIA’s offerings back in 2016. But she knew she needed a partner.
“I am a strategic person. I knew that I wanted to teach computer classes to senior citizens,” she said, “but if I tried to set it up, I knew someone would say, ‘Excuse me, ma’am, you might want a degree.”
Although she did not have that degree, she did know someone who did. And he had the perfect connections at Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA).
“I knew of Dr. Scott Ralls from North Carolina; he was the past president of the community college in my hometown,” she said, noting that Ralls is now the president of NOVA, one of the largest community colleges in the United States. They talked about the initiative in 2016, and while Ralls was very supportive and encouraging, the partnership didn’t come to fruition. However, two years later, a mutual Chamber of Commerce associate connected Udoema with the provost of NOVA’s Woodbridge campus. The meeting was not about technology, but Udoema went to the meeting armed with some WMT brochures. “I passed out my brochures, and Dr. Sam Hill said to me, ‘I want to partner with you.’”
Both Hill and Udoema said having NOVA IT students teach computer skills to senior citizens would greatly benefit both the students as well as the seniors. “When you teach, you learn,” Udoema said. “The students learn because although they know how to do something, they fine-tune it when they teach someone else.”
The Woodbridge program launched in late 2017, and although the program has undergone some adjustments, the mission has not changed. “This is really her program that we try to deliver on her
behalf at NOVA in a way that there is no cost to her, the seniors or us,” Hill said. “Our students benefit because this gives them an opportunity to showcase what they have learned.”
Udoema said the course is broken into three modules: the Internet and email, paying bills online and social media. Each module is 24 hours, and maximum class size is eight students. To date, 433 seniors have participated in the program, and ALIA has partnerships with three community colleges.
The class is free for anyone 62 or older. Recently, the City of Manassas has signed on to partner with ALIA to conduct WMT computer technology training, which will be held at the Boys and Girls Club.
Marianne E. Weaver (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a freelance editor and writer. She earned a BA from the University of Pittsburgh and an MJ from Temple University.