Council on Aging and Hoag Work to Keep ESL Learners and Seniors Connected

Shyness and isolation diminish thanks to computer literacy and other free classes

When it comes to mental health, connectivity is everything. And when it comes to connectivity, computer literacy is key.

From tackling online GED classes to creating Facebook accounts, older adults who are trying to move forward and stay connected are finding the online world closed off to them. The result is not just missed opportunities, but increased risk of mental health issues.

“A lot of our seniors don’t know how to use computers or their smartphones,” said Carolina Gutierrez-Richau, program director of the Preventative Mental Health Department of the Council on Aging, Southern California. “When we help them gain new skills and increase their confidence, we eliminate barriers to strong mental health. Our goal is to help our older citizens become more connected, which is very empowering for them.”

As part of its mission to promote the independence, health and dignity of older adults, the Council on Aging confirmed the connection between mental health and computer literacy, and began offering computer courses for older adults throughout Orange County.

Recently, the Council partnered with the Melinda Hoag Smith Center for Healthy Living to create ESL computer literacy programs.

“The Center for Healthy Living is so important to the community,” said Lisa Wright Jenkins, president & CEO of the Council on Aging, Southern California. “There is a large population of older adults in Orange County who are living on the edge, and we’re so thankful that the Center for Healthy Living had the foresight to recognize the issue, and the resources and commitment to provide services like these to the community. Hoag has always recognized the importance and benefits of partnering with trusted nonprofits like us who have a long history of serving all age populations of the community.”

By eliminating barriers to resources and opportunities, the ESL Computer Literacy courses help the program’s 50 participants stay connected. Gutierrez-Richau believes they will alleviate or prevent the mental health issues associated with isolation and lack of support.

Following the successful pilot program, Hoag and the Council now plan to continue offering computer literacy courses for emerging and native English speakers. Graduates of the program have come back to serve as peer mentors, and members of the classes have created a community for themselves, getting together for potlucks and staying, well, connected.

“Part of what this group does is build community,” Gutierrez-Richau said. “Many members of the county’s elderly population are isolated socially, so having a good support network is a positive impact on their mental health.”

The classes have also helped prove that “you’re never too old to learn something new,” said Catalina Ibarra, 70, a recent graduate of the computer program.

“I learned so much, even something as simple as turning on the computer, because I was not familiar with that before,” Ibarra said.

“The classes gave me confidence in myself to learn new things. I didn’t think I was capable of gaining new skills, but this class helped prove me wrong.”

The Council offers the 8-week computer series in the Center for Healthy Living’s computer lab. Nearly 50 participants go through the weekly classes at any given time.

For more information, call 949-764-6551.