Emmanuel students help seniors get connected

BOSTON -- As part of her First Year Seminar (FYS) course this semester, assistant professor of education Sister Karen Hokanson, SND has instituted a unique opportunity for Emmanuel College students to provide service to the local community.

Through a partnership with St. Katharine Drexel Parish in Roxbury, Sister Karen and students from her “Courses in Society: Global Connections” class provide assistance to the parish’s Cyber Cafe Program, an Internet and computer education program for senior citizens.

For two hours every other Friday throughout the fall semester, students travel to the parish center’s computer room to tutor senior citizens on basic computer and Internet operations. The idea, which was originally generated by Senior Associate Dean of Academic Advising Carolyn Caveny, has been in the works since last spring, when Sister Karen and two students piloted the program and gauged interest from members of St. Katharine’s community.

“We worked with senior citizens to determine what they felt their needs were and from there we developed a computer skills workbook over the summer,” said Sister Karen. “I put it into my first year seminar because I thought it was a beautiful way to help educate senior citizens in the use of the Internet so they could stay in touch with grandchildren and great-grandchildren.”

During registration, which is free for all seniors citizens, those interested are asked to fill out an information sheet, which asks if they have use of a personal computer at home and what knowledge they would like to gain from the program. From there, Emmanuel students help guide them through a variety of lessons included in the workbook, beginning with basic topics such as “Anatomy of a Computer” and “Intro to the Internet” and developing into more advanced training in PowerPoint and various Windows features.

So far, the program has proven very helpful for the elders involved.

“Most of these folks are between the ages of 70 and 90 years old, so the Internet came out after they had retired,” said Sister Karen. “What they wanted was to learn computer skills in order to be able to keep up.”

For many of the students, the program has also turned out to be beneficial in a number of ways. For instance, Emmanuel College junior Rachel Peritore, who serves as the instructional assistant for Sister Karen’s FYS course, has learned much about patience when it comes to teaching -- a lesson she plans to utilize after graduation. Peritore plans to teach English at the middle school or high school level.

“It is easy to forget how much technology we take for granted,” she said. “Many of the senior citizens did not even know how to turn a computer on, let alone send an e-mail. I have learned a new patience for teaching and explaining things which will definitely help me in the long run.”

Freshman Luis Diaz, meanwhile, has enjoyed the interaction with his two tutees: Francis, who shares his strong interest in sports; and Sister Mary, who like him, grew up in Lawrence.

“Helping senior citizens is the best feeling in the world,” he said. “You not only become a mentor, but a friend. And for them to have a college student as a friend is special to them.”

With the fall semester coming to a close, Sister Karen hopes to continue the program through the spring on a volunteer basis. For students looking for another way to make the city of Boston their extended classroom, the Cyber Cafe Program can prove educational for all involved. As freshman Jordan Dunne has discovered, there is much wisdom to attain from spending some time with elders.

“I’ve learned that people never outgrow their desire to learn new things and that it’s never wrong to seek help,” she said.