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Beyond the Net Journal: Harlem – New York. Meeting Up With HICAP students after 6 years to recall how the Internet can change seniors lives for the better.

The Internet is able to keep seniors engaged in a variety of ways that were not imaginable a few decades ago. The Harlem Internet Computer Access Program, started in 2010 by the US New York Chapter and funded by a Community Grant, is still a shining example of how the Internet can be a great resource for seniors. The project provided Internet access and computer education to low-income, disabled senior citizens. HICAP’s impact to the Harlem community is still palpable. All participants, who attended to 80% of their classes and passed competency tests, now have computers and Internet access in their homes.

Merle Bush, the passionate computer instructor of HICAP, is firmly convicted about the need for seniors to be connected. Events like the death of a spouse or a medical recovery increase feelings of loneliness and depression. When living at home alone, life becomes smaller and options for socialization decrease. “Some people believe that when they become seniors, that’s the end of the line. ” Merle says. “The Internet is as good for them as it’s good for me, to see what’s going on in the world and to connect with friends and relatives”.

Merle takes pride opening up a whole new world of possibilities to people who may otherwise miss opportunities “Medicare, social benefits, paperwork, on line shopping, social media… these are all great things that seniors can do with what they learnt” she explains, “but this project has been more than imparting knowledge, we all gained lifelong relationships.”

The impact this project has made on seniors is unbelievable. An example is Ms. Barbara Stephens, who lives on the fourth floor and has a prosthetic foot. For a period of six weeks, the building’s elevator was being expanded for wheelchair access. So it was supposed to be wise suspending classes until the date of completion. All the tenants were offered $500 toward expenses and a six week hotel stay. But the students took a vote: they all wanted to stay and forgo the cash to attend class. They did not miss one session, including Ms. Barbara Stephens. Enjoy her dance at the end of our video….

Now Merle has a full-time job, but her students, including Barbara Stephens, Mamie Perfet, Joyce Walker, The Wu Family… they all keep in touch. We attended one of their meetings to hear from their voices how the project is still affecting their lives.

Watch the Video

Special thanks to Joly MacFie, President of US New York Chapter, for his kind collaboration.

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Disclaimer: Viewpoints expressed in this post are those of the author and may or may not reflect official Internet Society positions.

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