PEOPLE HELPING PEOPLE

By Erin McLeod, President and CEO of the Friendship Centers

Not too long ago, there was a stereotype that seniors didn’t like technology. That’s as old as my husband’s Blackberry. In fact, the seniors I talk to love their smart phones and iPads. They love the convenience of Google for researching everything from “who was that actor in….?” to “what’s the conversion ratio for meters to feet?”

What was once a younger generational phenomenon – smartphonitis – is now a multi-generational affliction.  My 80-something mother-in-law says, “I couldn’t live without my iPad!!” (I think she could, but she would be very grouchy.)

That little device we all carry around has replaced the desktop and keyboard, the print encyclopedia, a camera or camcorder (remember how huge those things were?), your home phone, fax machine and so much more. Technology is helping us keep track of our travels, medications, exercise and music. In the workplace, we continuously search for ways technology can improve effectiveness and efficiencies – and sometimes the answer even translates to savings for the consumer.

The Friendship Centers has big plans when it comes to technology, but don’t worry – you won’t ever end up in one of those voicemail mazes asking you to press 1 for this or 2 for that. Technology can improve many things but, in our opinion, it can’t do much better than the warm, human ear to listen and the voice to guide our tens of thousands of callers each year.

So what, you might ask, are the big plans?

Thanks to some very generous grants from the Selby Foundation and the Gulf Coast Community Foundation, old computers will be upgraded offering faster processing speeds to improve efficiencies. Large smart TV screens will be installed in meeting and educational spaces of the Friendship Centers. Wireless speakers, webcams and ceiling mounted projectors (not exactly new technology, but stick with me) will work together to bring webcasting capabilities for long-distance meetings and learning opportunities with expert presenters from across the country.

For visitors to the campuses, the gathering places will serve multi-purposes allowing for interaction with groups across geographic boundaries and web based entertainment. Social connections will improve, the world will be at our fingertips to share with large groups…the possibilities are boundless.

The touch screens at the Friendship Centers’ now track the arrival of members as well as the programming or activities where they will engage. Data gathered is helping guide the planning for future courses, services and programs.

A newly upgraded computer lab offers Mac Minis to allow for computer training on both the Mac and Microsoft platforms. In addition, tech training has expanded beyond the walls of the computer lab as droves of seniors come to learn how to make their tablet or smart phone reach its full potential, be it research, social media or photo editing.

Case managers are now working remotely using tablets to conduct assessments, create care plans and smart phones to coordinate in-home supportive care for elders. This is a far cry from the days when they drove a route to several clients’ homes then back to the office to type out their notes and make calls.

Technology is allowing for more efficient use of their time – serving more and spending more time with the client.

I remember a time when my New Year’s resolution was to learn how to program my VCR and to organize my photo albums. That really wasn’t that long ago.

Now, I just need to keep up with my mother-in-law.