The Wenatchee Valley Senior Activity Center is excited to announce the return of technology tutoring to its activity schedule. This service is available at no additional cost to senior center members and joins the great list of reasons to become a member.
Two sessions will be offered each Tuesday and Thursday morning on an RSVP basis. To make a reservation, visit our online calendar using this link.
Last year, Hanna Walls, our AmeriCorps volunteer, offered similar tutoring sessions and they proved to be popular. While Hanna no longer volunteers at the senior center, our communications director, Russ Alman, has decided to restart the program.
Russ has been working with computers and technology since he was 9 years old, when he earned his novice class amateur radio license. By age 12, he passed his extra class ham license and became interested in computers, beginning with a Radio Shack TRS-80 Color Computer. While he decided to earn a bachelor's degree in communications at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, he never lost his interest in technology and completed a master's degree in telecommunications from Michigan State, marrying his interest in communications with computer technology. He wrote his master's thesis on the effect video games had on the ability for people to learn behaviors. "I tell people I played video games for my master's thesis," he jokes.
After finishing college, Russ and his wife, Karen, moved to the Pacific Northwest. He ended up working for an Apple Computer retailer in Eugene, Ore., hoping to have opportunities to teach computer classes. Due to changing market conditions, after a year in sales, he decided to start his own computer support business so that he could provide tutoring and technical support in clients' homes and businesses.
Russ continued providing computer support through moves to the Sarasota, Fla area and back to the Pacific Northwest in South Puget Sound. Finally, after moving to Wenatchee in 2012, Russ decided to change his career direction so that he could use his communications degrees while still leveraging his technology background. In 2014, he co-founded Digital Media Northwest, a company providing social media management, website design and video production services.
The senior center was one of the business' first clients. Over the last decade, Russ became increasingly involved in providing media services for the organization, including managing the social media accounts for the senior center and the thrift shop, taking photos at events, and producing and editing the center's television shows, Vibrant Living and Vibrant Motion. He also began helping with computer support issues.
By the summer of 2023, Russ was spending so much time working at the senior center that it made sense to bring him on staff. Also, with our capital fundraising project to expand and renovate our building looming, more communications work is on the horizon. So, Russ left his media business to become our Director of Communications.
Russ now wears multiple hats at the senior center, managing our social media, writing news and press releases, designing print materials and maintaining our website. He's also using his background in technology to act as our in-house tech support person, working with our managed I.T. provider to keep our computers running smoothly, and is working with a software vendor to implement new membership management software.
Russ is also a board member with the NCW Tech Alliance and has been working with the organization to bring tech help to the senior center through popup tech support events. It seemed like a logical next step to restart tech tutoring on a one-on-one basis. "While I don't plan to get back into tech support full time, I wanted to take the opportunity to apply my decades of experience in that capacity at the senior center. Many of my clients over the years were seniors, particularly when I lived in southwest Florida, and I have a real soft spot for helping seniors get up to speed with technology."
The senior center began the tutoring sessions the first week of January and Russ has already held four consulting sessions. One client had just purchased a new MacBook Air and had questions about how to navigate the operating system. Another client, a couple, had questions about how to set up their new Vizio smart TV, sign up for and access streaming services like Amazon Prime and Netflix. A third had questions about internet security and saving and organizing passwords between her iPhone and iPad. And a fourth, another couple, bought a new Kindle Fire that they wanted to hook up to Viki, an Asian TV streaming service.
"That last client was a toughie," Russ said. " Even though Amazon Fire tablets are based on Android, they are designed to work exclusively with the Amazon app store and the app they were looking for wasn't available. There is a way to 'sideload' the Google Play Store on Kindles, but it takes some advanced skills. As it turned out, the Viki movie app was available on Google Play, but currently isn't supported on tablets. So, then it occurred to me that we might be able to access the streaming service through their website. That didn't work either. While you can access Viki through a web browser on a computer, the website recognized we were using a mobile device and tried to get us to install the app -- which we already knew was incompatible. Then I had a hunch. I figured we could trick the site into thinking we were using a desktop computer. We went into the browser settings and put the browser in 'desktop mode.' Reloaded the website and voilà -- it worked! I showed the couple how to access that feature and now they are good to go. It wasn't as simple as we were hoping for, but it's a pretty easy workaround."
The response from the seniors who have taken advantage of the tutoring program has been overwhelmingly positive. "I commonly hear from seniors that they feel 'stupid' or 'afraid' when they use technology devices. Some have younger family members that can help them set up and troubleshoot technology, but they can't always rely on them, especially when those people don't live nearby. I reassure them that, while I understand why they feel intimidated, it's not just them. Technology is confusing for many people and even I get stumped sometimes. I'm excited to able to bring my previous experience in computer support to the senior center and help develop more classes and programs to help seniors bridge the digital divide."