“I watch Shirley Temple movies all night,” said Windi Horn, 62, adding that most of her immediate family has passed away and now she has only her dog. “I watch ‘Diff’rent Strokes,’ ‘Facts of Life’ and ‘Family Ties,’ and I listen to preaching.”
“I use it so much I got a stiff neck last week,” said Cassandra McMorris, 65, tapping on the glass screen. “I look up information on cats, because I’m a cat lover.”
The women are two months into a pilot program that has distributed iPads and offers biweekly computer classes and home Internet service to senior citizens at risk of isolation and depression, many of whom had never been online before.
The $250,000 pilot program, which started with 55 participants in Ward 2 of the District, will double when it expands to Ward 8 in August.
A program of the AARP Foundation, an AARP-affiliated charity, is being administered in the city by Family Matters of Greater Washington, a social-services organization. Comcast is providing discounted Internet service, and Netgear is donating modems. So far, the 50 participants of the original group are still attending class, and not one device has been lost.
For people born more than half a century before the advent of Hulu and Instagram, the iPad program, known as Connecting to Community, has been a revelation — and not only because it has opened them up to the world of videoconferencing, e-mail and adorable kittens.
“This whole thing is about isolation — it’s more about that than anything else,” said Gwendolyn Coleman, a program director at Family Matters.
Joining the program has brought together neighbors who live in the same building but had never met, she said. Now, some of them attend iPad classes together at the Shiloh Baptist Church on Ninth Street NW, and many arrive early to socialize in the cafeteria.
Some classmates engage in electronic “hangouts” with each other at home. And on Tuesday, when two students were out sick, their classmates sent them get-well notes — “Just checking on y’all.”
Participants’ levels of isolation were assessed at the beginning of the program and will be reassessed after six months. If the results are positive, the program will be expanded on a national level, AARP said.
James Reese, 69, used his iPad to save some money when he found a support group online that advised him on how to get his $174 prescription glaucoma medication for free. They also helped educate him.
“I found out the side effects on this, so I can ask my doctor,” he said, holding up a box of the medicine.
Like analog life, life with an iPad is not always predictable — as Hazel Brace, 62, reported to the class after trying to use hers at home to play some games.
“It got to jumping and going this way and that way — it scared the devil out of me,” she said, glaring at the sleek device that she had placed at some distance from herself on the table. “I shut this bad boy up, and it ain’t been on since.” (A program instructor assured her the glitch was probably storm-related.)
Younger relatives have also been caught off-guard. “One lady, her grandson is in Afghanistan,” Coleman said. “She got in touch and he said, ‘Grandma? Where did you get e-mail? Where did you get an iPad?’ ”