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Severna Park 4-H'ers bring technology to seniors


ANY DOUBT that 4-H is venturing off the farm is dispelled by a group of computer-savvy teen-agers from Severna Park who are getting ready to share their technical skills with what might seem a surprising group of students.

Inspired by the organization's familiar four-leaf clover logo - which represents head, heart, hands and health - and helped by a program called CyberSeniors/ Cyberteens, the Severna Park 4-H members are learning to teach seniors how to use computers.

Although putting the two age groups together might appear to be like trying to mix oil and water, it's an idea that works well, says 4-H volunteer Bill Long, 76, of Severna Park.

His daughter, Glynis Long, leader of the Severna Park club, says, "The teens are very patient and understanding with the seniors."

Training for the teens doesn't usually require much time, and they pick up all they need to know in two or three hours, she says. Working one-on-one with residents from the Sunrise Independent Living Center, the young people bring renewed vitality into the seniors' quiet lives. In the end, these are normal kids doing something to feel good about, Long says.

The seniors, who are a little out of the loop technically at first, are fast learners. Beulah Ricks, 95, a Sunrise resident, began taking computer lessons from the teens last year.

"I just love being able to use my computer," says Ricks, who has discovered the convenience of doing homework on her computer for the French lessons she takes through Anne Arundel Community College. She's the team leader for her fellow computer students.

Ricks and her friends enjoy searching the Internet for information about health, banking, travel and shopping, and they like being able to keep in touch with family and friends.

"The program is very sensitive to disability and seniors' physical and cognitive capabilities," Glynis Long says.

Everyone working on the local project is a volunteer, and no fee is charged to the seniors who participate.

"This is part of a national program to bring communication back into the hands of senior citizens," Long says.

The computer program began last year when Long, who has been a 4-H volunteer at the national level since 1993, recruited members of her son's track team at Severn School to be trained to teach the first class of seniors.

She has worked for a couple of years with Maine resident Elisabeth Isele, developer of the CyberSeniors program. CyberSeniors provides user-friendly techniques for teaching computer skills to people who may be limited, for example, by arthritis or reduced vision, or because they use walkers or wheelchairs. The program will soon be available in Spanish.

This year's class of trainers includes James Esposito, 15, from Mount St. Joseph High School in Baltimore, and Alexandra Long (Glynis Long's daughter), 15, and Jen May, 16, both from Severna Park High School.

The program began with a nucleus of five teen-agers, but the youngsters are recruiting others to the cause.

This year, the program is being offered to 14- to 18-year-olds attending any local high school, and to those earning a General Educational Development diploma, Long says.

Ensign Brian Phillips of Severna Park, a 2001 graduate of the Naval Academy who is attending graduate school at the University of Maryland, College Park on a computer science scholarship, is the club's senior technical adviser.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture sponsors 4-H and might provide some funding for purchasing more computer programs, Glynis Long says. To succeed, the club is appealing to local churches, banks, real estate and technology associations for funding or in-kind services.

The first phase of the program is working with Sunrise residents, Long says, but word is spreading among other Severna Park seniors, and they're requesting a spots in the classes.

To meet the demand, volunteers are hoping to find companies willing to allow them to use their computer laboratories in the evening. When lab space allows, more seniors will be invited to join the lessons, Long says.

Information: 410-647-2262, or send e-mail to fourhcyberseniors @yahoo.com.

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