The cool blue glow from a computer screen lights up Dan Johnson's wrinkled face as he lifts a finger cautiously to the keyboard, pressing a few buttons.
With a little help, Johnson, 74, learns how to punch out his name, make colors swoosh over the screen and play a tune on a piano keyboard fitted over the regular typewriter-style keyboard. He smiles when he hears the synthesized tones. "It's a music maker," he laughs.
Johnson is a member of the University Fellowship Club, a group of senior citizens who recently got a lesson in computer basics from a Rockville firm called ComputerKids.
"The elderly are often intimidated by computers," said Kitty Shadman, 29, one of the firm's founders. "They always hear computers are taking over the world. By giving them hands-on experience, we want to show them computers are something they can control."
ComputerKids specializes in educating community groups on how to use computers. Shadman and three other women set up the company in June with the goal of teaching children who may not have computers available to them at home or school how to use computers for learning.
Shadman said the demand for the company's services has spread to other age groups -- so much so, in fact, that she has considered changing the firm's name to ComputerFamily. The company sells educational software, holds classes in computers at its Rockville office and makes computers available for public use through a club membership.
Shadman said she often takes her computers on the road, traveling to preschools and visiting organizations such as the University Fellowship Club, a day-care center for elderly people who for health or safety reasons are unable to stay at home alone all day. The club is housed at the University Baptist Church on Campus Drive in College Park.
"To older people, computers are the unknown. And there is such a thing as computer phobia," said Shadman. "But computers are here to stay. Showing them the computers gives them more confidence in their environment; they find out it's nothing but a tool -- it can't control them. It's just like playing the piano or a game of bridge."
Shadman introduced about 20 members of the University Fellowship Club to such general computer terms as "floppy disc," "monitor" and "disc drive" during their two-hour lesson. Members of the group learned to play educational games and to use the keyboard to compose words and sentences on the screen. Shadman said the purpose of the presentation was to acquaint the club members with home computers and emphasize that the machines are useless without people, are simple to use and can be helpful.
"This is no smart machine," Shadman told the group. "It can't do anything by itself. Computers like these need people to control them. They are never going to replace people, teachers or parents."
A few of the club members seemed nervous as they approached the computers, but they warmed up a bit after watching the images on the screen react to their commands on the keyboard.
"I was nervous about using the computers at first, but now I feel better," said Helen Brown, 60. "People say computers are going to take over people's jobs, but now I know that's not right because computers need people to work them. Now that I'm not worried about people losing their jobs, I see that computers can come in handy," she said.