|Open House reveals the hidden treasures of Greenwich SeniorNet|
Stephen Marino, center, who coaches students on Adobe Photoshop Elements and other computer skills, talks techniques with Ken Sanger, right, an instructor of digital photography, during the recent SeniorNet Computer Training Program Open House at the Greenwich Senior Center. (Anne W. Semmes / for the Greenwich Citizen)
Hidden below the swirl of senior activities at the Greenwich Senior Center is a little known beehive of computer activity where dozens of skilled men and women are volunteering their time to teach computer skills to Greenwich citizens of all ages.
"It's one of the best kept secrets in the Town of Greenwich, " said instructor Gary Krause, at the annual Greenwich SeniorNet Computer Training Center Open House. "We teach 14 subjects on three different kinds of computer operating systems -- Apple, Windows XP and Windows 7/Vista."
The cost of the instruction is minimal and the benefits are boundless. For example, four Basic Introduction Courses of three to eight sessions, running 2 1/2 hours each, are on offer at SeniorNet at $30 to $50 a class. (Gift certificates are available for the holidays.)
Fred Elser, founder of the SeniorNet Computer Training Center, has overseen the training of some 2,700 students since the Center opened its doors in 1998. (Anne W. Semmes / for the Greenwich Citizen)
John Christopherson, a former RAF pilot, was one of dozens of prospective students stopping by. "I want to learn about Windows 7. I have three computers, PCs and a laptop. I want to learn all the new stuff that's come out. You have to keep ahead of the curve."
"We used to cover people 50 and over, but now it's all ages, from the 30s to the 80s," said instructor Ken Sanger, a former IBMer; now 86, who quipped, "The salary here is lousy. We're all volunteers."
Sanger, who teaches digital photography, pointed to a hallway wall filled with his enlarged photographs printed from a computer. "We teach how to download photos, and where put them on their computer. They learn to edit simply, to fix red eye, or what to do when there's not enough light, and how to crop. In more advanced classes, we teach them how to make montages or trick things with their photographs."
Inside the computer room, instructors and eager learners were clustered around a double row of a dozen top-of-the-line Apple iMac computers.
Isabella Butkiewicz was hearing from instructor Sal Tesoro how she could learn more about computers. "I'm teaching her how to use the word processor," said Tesoro, who worked for IBM for 30 years and liked his volunteer job. ("It's very gratifying," he said.)
"I'd like to know what Excel means and how you do a spreadsheet," continued Butkiewicz.
Lillian London is another of the number of coaches at SeniorNet. She arrived eight years ago to SeniorNet -- as a student. As the former owner of Estate Treasures on East Putnam Avenue, London did her own advertising. But, when the newspapers started requesting digital photos by e-mail, she came to the Greenwich SeniorNet to learn how to do it and she stayed on when she was asked to be a coach.
"You can always learn something new," she said.
London added that though the majority of students were senior citizens, there were now a lot of young people. "People are enjoying taking the classes," she said. "They're given on Monday and Wednesday from 9-11:30 and on Tuesday and Thursday from 1 to 3:30. We can accommodate 11 students."
And generally classes were half women and half men.
Since SeniorNet opened in 1998, some 2,700 students have benefited from its services reported, Fred Elser, who was tapped to start the program by the Senior Center. He projected nearly 300 students would benefit this year.
A former IBMer, Elser had brought in IBM and Bell Atlantic as initial sponsors with six donated IBM PCs that grew to nine and then 12. Today, he said, they're teaching on Apples.
Nearby, Apple instructor, Charlie Stone was working with former RAF pilot Christopherson. "His computer was running slow. I'm showing him how to clean up his computer, to do disc clean up, defragmenting, " said Stone.
Christopherson had signed up for online help at his home and paid $150 for a year's service. Eventually, though, he ended up coming to SeniorNet for help.
John Freiberg came to see what was on offer. He enjoyed using the Internet but said he had "deficiencies downloading music and pictures and using cameras." Helping him was Sigurd Ahl, who teaches a "Basics for Beginners" class.
A woman nearby was asking about the best method of storing her many photographs. London suggested a separate drive to store them on, as she does. "They take up a lot of room in your computer," Elser added. "We cover storage in all our courses."
"We have people coming to us with zero experience, intermediate, and those quite advanced," said Elser.
And some have taken up to six courses.
The Greenwich SeniorNet is part of the national non-profit SeniorNet organization headquartered in Washington, DC. "it was created 14-15 years ago," said Krause, "to teach computers to the generation that missed out on it."
Advanced classes can turn computer users into photo and video editors with the use of Adobe Photoshop, Picasa and Multimedia, or students can learn how to manage their finances on Quicken.
With computers, the learning appears endless. There to show the next threshold of computer use to be taught in the spring was Sean Mecsery of Cos Cob TV with his flat screen TV exhibiting digital movies and photo montages. Students would even learn how to connect their computers to their televisions to project their handiwork or their home amusement.
For more information on Greenwich SeniorNet, call 203-862-6734. Their Web site is: