Then the pandemic left her alone in her studio apartment with poor TV reception and a few DVDs — unable to go to the nearby gym, head to Weight Watchers meetings in Waco or meet with friends. Her daughter, who works for a tech company in California, found out about Senior Planet in April and suggested she try it. She waited three months, becoming more and more desperate for things to do.
“The first time I went on Senior Planet I was hooked,” Bailey says. “It gave me my world back and more than that, a whole new world.” Now she joins stretch or chair yoga classes to keep fit; participates in the virtual book club; and takes tech classes, even learning how to use an HDMI cable so she can watch YouTube videos from her computer on the bigger TV screen. She’s in Senior Planet discussion groups where she’s met people from across the country and often takes part in several workshops each day.
The idea for OATS/Senior Planet began when Kamber was working on part of the project to revitalize Lower Manhattan after 9/11. An 87-year-old woman in the area called him after learning about his website launch related to the project. But she didn’t have a computer and didn’t know about the internet.
Kamber ended up tutoring her in his office.
OATS was founded in 2004 in New York City as an outgrowth of those lessons. It now has Senior Planet physical centers in five additional cities: Palo Alto, California; Denver; Rockville, Maryland; Plattsburgh, New York; and San Antonio. Classes are entirely online during the pandemic, which allows anyone from across the country to participate, but in-person instruction will resume when it’s safe to do so.
Engagement erases isolation
Senior Planet programs are designed to teach adults 60 and older basic computer skills — including how to start, stop, mute, skip ads and enlarge a YouTube video — and more advanced options. Its interactive online classes, offered in English, Spanish and Chinese, are free to anyone of any age. About 50 classes are on the schedule each week.
“A lot of Latino adults aren’t up to date with technology. Some don’t even have internet access,” says Braulio “Brad” José Veloz Carvajal, a 73-year-old retiree in San Antonio who found out about the Senior Planet classes through his membership in the Pride Center San Antonio. He knew how to use a computer but retired from his job at the Pentagon in 2003, so he wanted to learn all about Google, Facetime and Zoom.