Story and Photos By Christine Bordelon, Clarion Herald
As technology continues to advance at a fast pace, more and more seniors are finding themselves left behind and unable to easily communicate with friends and family.
To help the elderly navigate the ins and outs of their iPhones, the YMCA is the facilitator of a free, four-session class called “Apple iPhone Basics for Boomers.”
The weekly class, taught by former St. Catherine of Siena teachers Brenda Marinello and Claudette Lay, is offered free due to contributions from Jefferson Parish Councilmen Paul Johnston and Dominick Impastato, Jefferson Council on Aging and the Jefferson Community Foundation.
Gordon Wadge, president and CEO of the YMCA of Greater New Orleans, said the councilmen were fielding calls from their constituents of the need for such a course.
A pilot program was introduced in December 2018, said Marinello, who referred to herself and Lay as the “nerds of the classroom” because of how they immersed themselves into technology that former St. Catherine of Siena principal Sister Imelda Moriarty brought to campus decades ago and never looked back. Lead instructor Peggy Fernandez created the pilot.
It was so popular that a second series rolled out in January.
Marinello said they quickly learned that they were progressing too fast for the newbie iPhone 5,6,7,8 and iPhoneX users, and that there were too many people in the initial sessions. There were just too many questions left unanswered in four sessions, and more one-on-one help was needed.
This iteration of the program only covers half of the tips, including basic calling, managing contacts and taking photos, sending texts, adding photos to a text, how to take selfies and how to install and use ride-sharing apps. Class size is limited to 10, whereas before it was 15-18 students.
Marinello said she had one participant who was afraid of her iPhone because her family was demanding that she use it.
“They needed more hands on,” she said. “This seems to be the key.”
During a recent class, participants Lorraine Genovese and Margie Berry accessed their phones as Marinello used her phone hooked up to a large screen so they could see what she was exploring.
Marinello was teaching them to recognize what a “phishing” email was and what could happen if they clicked through it and gave out personal information.
Lay recalled how her father received a scam email that his grandson was in jail in London and needed money to get out. He called her only to find out he was not overseas, so he didn’t respond to the email and avoided being duped.
But, so many others have been swindled out of money by unscrupulous people, including several parishioners at a local parish in Metairie. They had received an email that they thought was from their new pastor requesting iTune cards. It was really someone posing to be him, and several people responded to the request.
“When you are talking phone threats, that is so dangerous in so many ways,” Berry said.
“Never open a hyperlink in an email you do not know,” Marinello said, as Lay was patiently reviewing with Berry – on her iPhone – everything that Marinello was saying.
“Now you do it,” Lay told Berry as she began navigating her phone.
“This is so important to know,” Berry said about scams. “I wanted to learn all about the iPhone. There are so many steps I do not know.”
“I’m learning to use aspects of the phone that I had no idea about but am paying for,” Genovese said. “It’s wonderful things like how to block things. I find when you go to a class, you get things maybe you didn’t hear because you share.”
Spread to more locations
The Apple iPhone Basics for Boomers is reaching out to Catholic church parishes such as St. Francis Xavier, St. Angela Merici and St. Catherine of Siena as well as community groups to expand the program throughout Jefferson Parish, Marinello said.
The beauty of the program is that participants are sent home with handouts of everything covered in class and asked to fill out a phone usage survey on what skills they want to learn or improve.
“Go home and practice what you learned to day,” Lay said is emphasized every class.
“We gain information from our students,” Marinello said. “When they second and third us (in class), we know it is important.”
“The whole thing Brenda and I stress is safety,” Lay said. “We assume they know nothing. We want them to have fun and be comfortable with their phones, but be safe and smart. Participants are not afraid to ask us about anything.”
Their goal is to create a follow-up session to dive deeper into iPhone usage and possibly add Android phone usage tips.
“We are opening a new line of communication with their family,” Lay said. “We want them to be able to reach out to family members, whether they live here or far away. … It’s really a great program. If they feel comfortable with technology, they feel proud of themselves that they can accomplish things that they didn’t think they could master and be a part of the world again and not be part of the past.”
“I give applause to both of these ladies,” Genovese said.
For details on the class, call Kathryn Billiot at the East Jefferson YMCA at 888-9622, ext. 101, or email Fernandez at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Christine Bordelon can be reached at email@example.com.