Colleen Smith/Staff Photo
                                Dick Thomson and Vivian Conlan during an iPhone class at the Orcas Island Senior Center in early February.

Colleen Smith/Staff Photo Dick Thomson and Vivian Conlan during an iPhone class at the Orcas Island Senior Center in early February.

Knowledge is power | Island seniors learning about technology during weekly classes

Island seniors are getting in touch with their inner tech geek.

The Orcas Island Senior Center has been offering free weekly classes on such topics as computer basics, operating a cell phone, using WebMD and choosing a medical alert device.

“The seniors in our community have watched rockets land on the moon, the dial phone become the iPhone and the black-and-white television become YouTube. The Orcas senior center is proud to be the guiding light to keep seniors on the same page as their grandkids and peers,” said Vicki O’Keefe, senior center program and activities coordinator. “Some seniors lose confidence as they age, but with these classes, they have a handle on what ‘swipe’ means, and they can send a text.”

The program was funded through a grant from the Orcas Island Community Foundation. Islanders donate anywhere from $10 to $10,000 to various local nonprofits during the GiveOrcas grant program in the spring.

Staff at the senior center wanted to add computer and phone classes to its list of other offerings that provide socialization, physical activity and personal enrichment for island elders. Previous grants from OICF have helped fund some of those endeavors. In 2017, the center received community foundation funding to conduct a survey of seniors’ needs, and the results indicated a desire for increasing knowledge of technology. Many seniors experience isolation that is exacerbated by limited computer access and skills.

The senior center currently has 750 members, though not all of them use the facility. O’Keefe hopes public awareness about the facility – which offers everything from exercise classes to weekly meals to footcare clinics – will bring more seniors through the door.

“Some think they don’t need any help or that the senior center has nothing to offer them,” she said.

O’Keefe also hopes islanders will consider spending time with a senior as a volunteer. She is particularly hopeful that a teen or young person will sign up.

“It would transform the senior’s life – and the teen’s too,” she said.

The conference room is the official “tech lab” where instructors from Orcas Online, Rock Island Communications and 376Tech lead classes. The center provides a $25 coupon to seniors attending the classes to redeem for one-on-one visits with the teachers, who provide in-home individualized technological assistance.

“The range of questions makes it fun to figure out ways to communicate with people – and also really help out,” said teacher Keith Light of Orcas Online. “It’s very laid back, and any question you have is welcome. iPhones are really less daunting than you think. You just take it piece by piece.”

The OICF grant also included the purchase of equipment. There is now a large screen in the lobby that announces daily activities and classes, and patrons can enjoy two laptops with free internet access. O’Keefe is in the process of buying audio and visual equipment that will help participants see more clearly during classes.

The center also launched a lecture series that presents from sources on the internet to groups of up to 40 people so far. The program is called Meeting of the Minds and stimulates academic and social interaction with projection, laptop connectivity and internet sources.

“We are also pairing seniors with other seniors for one-on-one tutoring, which helps with feelings of social isolation and fear of not looking smart in a class,” said O’Keefe.

Upcoming courses

Feb. 21, 3-4 p.m.: Are you hacked? Bring your MAC or PC.

Feb. 26, 10-11 a.m.: Bring your own Mac with a project.

Feb. 28, 3-4 p.m.: Computer basics.

March 5 and 19, 10-11 a.m.: iPhone help

March 7, 3-4 p.m.: Smart phone help

March 12, 10-11 a.m.: Bring your own PC with a project

March 14, 3-4 p.m.: CyberSeniors online learning

March 21, 3-4 p.m.: 376Tech tips

March 26, 10-11 a.m.: Bring your own Mac with a project

March 28, 3-4 p.m.: Computer basics

Visit for more information on classes.