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TMCNet:  New initiative to provide computer literacy to senior citizens; watch video [El Paso Times, Texas]

[October 18, 2011]

New initiative to provide computer literacy to senior citizens; watch video [El Paso Times, Texas]

(El Paso Times (TX) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Oct. 18--Retired clerk Rosaura R. Gonzales slowly maneuvered her way through a computer lesson, carefully placing her fingers on the keyboard and fiddling with the mouse.

"You're never too old to learn," said the 77-year-old Gonzales, who's among a group of senior citizens tackling a new task at the Hilos de Plata Senior Center in Central El Paso: computer literacy.

"I love it. It's very interesting and very different than I remember," Gonzales said. The last time she used a computer was in the early 1980s -- before the Internet and the computer mouse were widely used, she said.

"Everything is new to me again," she said.

The class is part of the El Paso Public Library's "Virtual Village: Pathway to Success" initiative, which aims to provide computer literacy and Internet access to a large segment of the population that doesn't have either, said Jerry Kurtyka, project manager of the $8.4 million federal grant.

Awarded to the city in 2010, the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce is part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Under the grant, the city has retrofitted nearly 500 public computers and installed more than 300 new ones at libraries, recreation and senior centers, and other public centers citywide, officials said.

"The problem we're addressing is computer literacy through infrastructure and training," Kurtyka said. He said the public computer centers are not just for senior citizens, but for the estimated 65 percent of El Paso households that don't have broadband access.

"This is a start toward a solution of advancing people into the work force through citizenship, ESL (English as a Second Language), GED (General Educational Development) and computer literacy," Kurtyka said.

The first tier of the Virtual Village initiative was implementing the infrastructure and training staff; a second tier includes providing programs and services for the public aimed at career counseling, job searching and preparation; and a third tier encourages participants to pursue a higher education.

About 30 percent of El Pasoans don't have a high school diploma, according to the latest figures from the U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey. About 24 percent of residents lived in poverty in 2009, according to the survey.

"You can't be computer literate if you don't have access to a computer or the Internet," Kurtyka said.

The Virtual Village leverages the Digital El Paso collaborative, a communitywide program that provides infrastructure and wireless connectivity at public institutions citywide.

Computers are also being installed or are on the way at institutions citywide, including Women, Infants and Children sites; Boys and Girls Clubs of El Paso; Centro de Salud Familiar La Fe; El Paso Housing Authority sites; and the Ysleta del Sur Pueblo. El Paso Community College is a partner in the grant, providing recent graduates and students to serve as lead trainers and computer mentors.

Also coming soon is a mobile bus-size center known as the Tech-Mobile. The Tech-Mobile -- a modern version of the Bookmobile retrofitted with laptops, wireless Internet, interactive whiteboards and more -- is expected to begin making rounds to locations countywide next month, Kurtyka said.

Many of the people who are taking classes or using the computer centers have never used a computer or have limited skills, officials said.

"What is just natural to us is unknown to them," said Sylvia Marquez, recreation program supervisor at Hilos de Plata. "Many of them are starting from the beginning -- typing, mousing, clicking, understanding what a computer does and what the Internet is." Squinting but focused, Ruth Acosta, 75, said she's determined to learn how to use a computer and, eventually, the Internet. "I have a computer at home my son gave me, but I don't know how to use it," Acosta, a retired hairstylist, said as she typed, "I'm learning to use a computer" during a Microsoft Word lesson. "I'm brand new at this." A fourth tier of the Virtual Village program provides for advanced training for people to become adept at using webcams and social-networking sites and even enroll in distance-learning classes.

Gonzales said she has no plans to make videos like those an elderly Oregon couple unknowingly made when trying to use their webcam and recorded themselves fumbling with the computer. Posted on YouTube by their granddaughter, the couple's video has been viewed more than 2 million times.

"I want to do my checks on the Internet and maybe send emails to my children and grandchildren," Gonzales said. She giggled and added, "I don't know about videos, though." Cindy Ramirez may be reached at cramirez4@elpasotimes.com; 546-6151.

___ (c)2011 the El Paso Times (El Paso, Texas) Visit the El Paso Times (El Paso, Texas) at www.elpasotimes.com Distributed by MCT Information Services

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