Missouri man helps other older adults embrace technology

KANSAS CITY, Mo. >> Like many others of his generation, 64-year-old Charles Davis felt intimidated by the digital world and fearful of putting his trust in technology.

So when he started working at the Urban League of Greater Kansas City, Davis enrolled in its free senior digital literacy class. What he didn’t expect was to be asked to take on teaching the class after just a few sessions.

“I was like, oh my God, no,” he said.

Later, he decided to look at the task as an opportunity to help other older adults embrace technology.

“I really started to embrace what my challenges were as an older adult about the experience … and so what that entailed was fear,” said Davis.

But it was his firsthand experience of overcoming those obstacles that led to his effectiveness in teaching his peers how to conquer the digital divide.

“That right there was really the pushing point for me to start to have the empathy for others, because I firsthand had experience on how that felt as a senior not really knowing this computer age — and how it felt to ask the questions to the younger generation,” he said.

It’s been two years since Davis began teaching, and he credits the Urban League for taking a chance on him.

The Urban League is the nation’s oldest civil rights organization, according to the National Park Service. The Kansas City affiliate has been established in the area for more than 100 years serving underrepresented communities.

Marchel Alverson, the league’s vice president of marketing and communications, said the senior digital literacy program has been running for six years, and it has been highly successful.

A goal at the center is to make computers accessible to everyone. Sometimes even libraries aren’t feasible options, Alverson said, because of transportation problems or other issues.

“We wanted to give everyone access to computers. There’s this rumor that everyone has a computer, and that’s not the case — what we actually (have) is like a digital desert, and digital equity is important to us,” Alverson said.

Light bulb moments

Davis prides himself on creating a comfortable learning environment, which enables students to gain confidence.

The key, he said, is to get them engaged.

“It is the skill to have — this class is designed for them to engage and also designed for them to read and (understand) the importance of paying attention to detail, so it’s a work-at-your-own-pace kind of opportunity,” Davis said.

For Phyllis Banton, 74, the class has become an important part of her weekly schedule. She not only works on her digital skills, but is also surrounded by friends who share the same goal of learning to use the computer.

“The instructor is very nice and compassionate, takes his time with you. … He said you can’t break the computer. The computer is waiting on you to give it the orders that you need. So this is why I like to keep coming,” Banton said.

Online safety is a big concern for many students, and it can be intimidating. Davis said it’s a process for them to tackle their fears, but once they start becoming comfortable, it’s like a light bulb turns on and they move forward rapidly.

His students recognize that computer skills are vital in today’s world.

“Now, if you don’t know how to get on a computer, you are going to be lost in the world,” said Rebbecca Walcott.

Walcott, 79, said before joining the class she was in the dark about how computers worked and was cautious when it came to trying to send or receive information online. Since taking the classes, she’s been able to gain skills to safely do research, stay updated with news and communicate with her children through email.

‘When we give, we learn’

Davis said the class gives older adults the opportunity to not only grow their tech and computer knowledge, but get them out of their comfort zone and build their social groups.

“I think this is the jewel in the sand, bringing them out because of the opportunity to engage with others — now they see a need to also educate each other. That was the highlight, when I (saw a) senior helping another senior walk through the process,” he said.

Davis said that as an instructor, his students also teach him, with the wisdom they share.

“It’s been a very impactful opportunity — you just see the genuine character and how it is very important that we never forget wisdom. They are the foundation, and so being able to have that opportunity to reach back into their world and receive some of that wisdom and knowledge is priceless,” Davis said.

One of Davis’ running jokes during class: “Now, next week, you will teach the class.” While it may be in jest, he said he looks forward to seeing one of them take over the course someday.