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Support group helps older adults put technology to use

Older adults are turning off their fear of technology and turning on new electronic devices with help from the support group Retired and Wired.

"It all started with a member of the parish, Mary Lou Sheppard," said the Rev. John Rudolph, who leads the group's meetings at St. John's United Methodist Church in Hampstead. "She had gotten a new Kindle and she asked me if she could come to the parsonage and if I could help her with it. While she was there I said, 'I bet there are others who have questions or need guidance.'"

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Sheppard said she told Rudolph, "We need to have a tablet party."

"It was going to be a one-time thing, but then they started meeting monthly," Rudolph said. "And recently they decided to meet every two weeks."

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Rudolph said the meeting opens with a prayer, which is followed by time for members to talk about any new devices they have picked up since the last meeting. Next, he asks if anyone has faced any new technical challenges, leaving time to answer those questions. Then, there is a planned lesson.

"This has just been amazing," Sheppard said of the meetings, which started about 10 months ago. "Even though we have different devices, we have learned so much from each other. Pastor John is so techy and the ultimate teacher. We laugh and share ideas, and we are amazed when we realize an hour has gone by."

"At a [recent] meeting, we looked at my Apple TV," Rudolph said. "I had previously mentioned that I have Internet television and they were interested so I brought it in, set it up and showed them how it works. For a half-hour or so we went through other brands and all they could access with Internet TV."

Rudolph said sometimes a small tip means a lot.

"Margaret Miller, who is not a member of the church but comes to our group, was so excited at one session when she figured out how to remove the automatic screen lock on her iPad. She'd be reading and the screen would shut off because she hadn't touched it in a while. It was like she'd won the lottery."

Miller said, "I've learned how to get into Google [on a tablet] and how to take pictures better. Now, I look through Facebook and find recipes. It's amazing what you can find."

At the group's meeting on June 26, Rudolph talked about how to store information in the cloud. He introduced Dropbox, OneDrive, Box, Google Drive and other options for cloud storage. Then, transferring the screen of his iPhone to a flat screen, he showed group members how he could access information on his phone from Dropbox. Next, he opened the computer in the room and they viewed the same information there.

Sheppard said her family had been emailing recipes to each other for a family cookbook. Rudolph showed her how they could all share a Dropbox with each person simply dragging and dropping their recipe into the cloud, allowing immediate access for all.

"I can't wait to try Dropbox for the family cookbook," Sheppard said.

"This Dropbox will be perfect for communicating with a scholarship committee I am on for GBMC," group member Sharon Croghan said. She is the chairperson for a committee that consists of retired employees from Greater Baltimore Medical Center.

Croghan said she joined the group so she could figure out her iPhone. "My main form of communication with my daughter and my grandchildren is through texting. She works and I never know when she is home to answer the phone. This way I can get a message to her and she can respond."

Rudolph talked about the importance of technology for older Americans. "It's critical for them because it is not going away. There's so many ways that these hand-held devices can make your life more efficient. You have unlimited research for your health and finances and keeping up socially with your family and grandkids at your fingertips," he said.

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Lynn Piper said she was tired of relying on other people for technology.

"My grandchildren can do things I can't do, even the little ones," Piper said. "I wanted to have some independence with technology. I didn't have a smartphone when I first came [to Retired and Wired]. I could see from other people talking that I needed to have one, and that has changed my life. Now, I can catch all my emails, no matter where I am. And I don't feel so helpless anymore."

Getting involved

Retired and Wired, which is open to all with no fee, meets on specific Fridays at St. John's United Methodist Church, 1205 N. Main St., Hampstead.

The next meeting is at 10 a.m. July 17.

For more information, call 410-239-8088 or visit the North Carroll Cooperative Parish of the United Methodist Church online at http://www.nccpumc.com.

The parish includes St. John's UMC in Hampstead, Grace UMC in Upperco and Greenmount UMC in Greenmount. The Rev. John Rudolph is associate pastor of the parish, where his wife, the Rev. Dr. Melissa Rudolph, is lead pastor.

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