Kent Co. Senior Extension. to boost the new non-profit technology support program

A Grand Rapids nonprofit that provides independent living services got a boost last week when Kent County voters expanded a senior services division that will help the organization’s newly launched technology support program.

County voters in last week’s election overwhelmingly approved an eight-year extension for senior staff, according to the Kent County Clerk’s office. The Millage will generate approximately $13.3 million this year to support more than 50 services.

Senior Neighborsa Grand Rapids nonprofit that helps local seniors maintain independence, announced last month its technology support program that includes group workshops, one-on-one support and a technology lending library for residents 60 and older.

NGO officials say the program will help seniors adapt to – and participate in – the rapidly changing technological landscape.

“One of the common themes with many of our clients is feeling overwhelmed by the technological demands in their lives,” said Peter Kortenhoven, Senior Neighbors program coordinator. “A lot of the services they’re applying for, a lot of the forms and the communication is over the Internet — electronic documents and things like that.”

Basic technology literacy has become an important key to independent living, Kortenhoven added.

“I think technology is one area where we’re leaving the older generation behind the faster ones,” Kortenhoven said. “We just thought it would be great to have a program to bridge that gap.”

The program will equip seniors to use technology for a variety of purposes, including communicating with family and friends, completing online applications for services and navigating telehealth systems.

The program’s curriculum also includes an introduction to cyber security threats and Internet fraud, which cost seniors more than $3 billion last year, according to AARP.

“We hope we can make an impact in that regard by teaching them what to look out for, who to respond to and who not to respond to, and what are the indicators of someone trying to get their information.” Kortenhoven said.

Voters support seniors

Shortly after Senior Neighbors announced the technology support program, about 71 percent of Kent County voters approved an eight-year extension of the county’s senior services agency, according to unofficial election results.

The West Michigan Regional Agency on Aging (AAAWM) manages the millage funds in partnership with 32 local agencies.

Each year, AAAWM identifies priorities for mill funding. Technology was identified as a priority in 2021 and local officials selected Senior Neighbors as a partner to address this need. The Kent County Senior Millage Review Committee, made up of county commissioners and seniors from the community, approved the Senior Neighbors proposal.

“We’ve seen the need really grow since COVID hit,” said Kendrick Heinlein, AAAWM’s director of service contracts and program development, about technology programming for seniors.

While a variety of support services are available to seniors in the area, most now require basic technology skills to access programming, Heinlein said.

“(Senior Neighbors is) a trusted partner. We’ve worked with them since the millage started in 1999,” Heinlein said. “Their proposal really had a mix of in-home and classroom sessions, which we wanted … and really focused on serving all seniors.”

The program welcomes all adults over the age of 60.

“The final message I would like to convey is that everyone is welcome and we really want to make a difference and help them build their independence,” Kortonhoven said.

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