Older Harris County Residents Seek New Technological Support

Technological curriculum has shifted at many community centers and local libraries to cater to the interests of older Harris County residents.
Technological curriculum has shifted at many community centers and local libraries to cater to the interests of older Harris County residents. Screenshot
Libraries and community centers across Harris County are transitioning their technology-instruction programs to meet the new needs of older residents who are asking to learn more about their smartphones and mobile devices.

Prior to these requests, most of those attending these courses and events were requiring education on how to navigate the internet and use either desktop computers or laptops, said Kathy Perez, director of community recreation for Harris County Precinct 4.

Now, older Harris County residents are instead wanting to learn more about their handheld devices and social media or popular applications that can be downloaded onto them like Uber, Lyft and Uber Eats, Perez said.

“I think our senior adults, at least the ones who take advantage of our community centers, like to stay busy, engaged and up to date with technology,” she said. “They realize that they can’t do any normal everyday functions without it.”

These courses are offered across the county at several of the community centers including the Jim & JoAnn Fonteno Senior Education Center, Thomas A. Glazier Senior Education Center, and more in other precincts like Cavalcade Community Center and Kashmere Multi-Service Center.

Carmen Abrego, the public relations communications manager for Houston Public Library said the programs at Cavalcade Community Center and Kashmere Multi-Service Center are in partnership with the library – whose staff instruct at these centers.

“These older populations may not know what they can do with their smartphones, and we want to make sure that they are comfortable with using them and instruct them, alongside giving them the basics,” Abrego said.

Perez said partnering with other organizations helps to provide these facilities with plenty of staff to teach classes as they continue to expand their offerings and number of courses provided.

Currently, Perez said Precinct 4 is partnered with Harris County Universal Services – the county’s center for technological support – and local colleges and universities who send staff and computer science students respectively to assist with instruction.

These volunteers also cover more of the advanced topics and provide one-on-one services that allow those attending to ask more specific questions about what they may be individually interested in learning or struggling to understand.

“This gives our staff the ability to step back and let these organizations take more time to do more advanced tech assistance and personal instruction, which is what our residents sometimes need,” Perez said.

Although the majority interest is in usage of smartphones and tablets, there is still a small population of residents that are coming in to have access to or learn about desktop computers and laptops, said Perez.

Those that are looking for more basic instruction or usage of these computers tend to be residents who are older than 70, live near a library dessert or do not have access to the internet at home.

However, very few people who attend these courses lack this access, as 88.4 percent of Harris County residents do have internet in their households, according to U.S. Census Bureau data.

Perez said most also live by a library unless they are near the Bayland and Fonteno centers or on the northwest side of the county near their Hockley Community Center.

Both the Fonteno and Glazier centers have full-service computer labs and their facilities’ staff plans to continue to maintain them to cater to those needing this access, Perez said.

And at the Kashmere Multi-Service Center they are about to receive an allotment of laptops to distribute and allow the public to use for these same reasons, Abrego said.

Both Abrego and Perez said each community center plans to continue to expand, while also listening to the services requested by those coming in for classes, so they can continue to develop curriculum that best serves these older residents’ needs.

“We really try to listen to them when it comes to developing our program, we want to give them the information and make sure they feel independent,” Perez said. “It seems that these types of classes – whether basic or advanced – really help and that’s our target goal and we want to continue to evolve and grow as these residents become more comfortable with technology.”
KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Faith Bugenhagen is on staff as a news reporter for The Houston Press, assigned to cover the Greater-Houston area.