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Classes help seniors use cellphones

It was a classroom scene: students taking notes at tables, an instructor in front of a slide projector, clicking her way through a PowerPoint presentation.

But this scene had a slightly bizarre tinge: The instructor was at least 40 years younger than most of her students. The first slide read: "How do cellphones work?"

That's what this handful of senior citizens had gathered to learn. And that's what Sarah Smith, the instructor, had come to teach them.

They were in a class, sponsored by Kanawha Valley Senior Services, to teach seniors the basics of buying and using a cellphone. (Smith's official position with senior services is as an "administrative facilitator," but she has experience teaching computer classes and spent a while selling phones, so the board deemed her more than qualified to teach the basics.)

It was one part how-to session, one part information on the types of phones and how to buy them. (For the record, few were satisfied with the aesthetics of the no-frills, senior-friendly models; they all want iPhones.)

Increasingly, seniors are taking to the computer and the Web, to Facebook and Twitter. And this year, a Pew Research Center study found that more than half of Americans now own cellphones, and seniors aren't necessarily the exception.

"Technology is just going to keep moving," said Oretta Keeney, 67. "And I think, oh my God, I don't want to be left behind."

Keeney has a flip-phone but says she "doesn't know how to use half the features on it." She attended Thursday's class but is also on the board of directors at KVSS - she helped come up with the idea.

"We were just talking about our generation being bombarded with all this new information," she said. "As time marches on, we're going to need to know how to use these things."

One of Smith's slides on smartphones read, "The possibilities are endless!"

And it really feels that way, Keeney said, to her and others of her generation. They've lived without cellphones and social media, but now they see how much easier and more fun life can be with them.

Besides, they like that all this new technology lets them connect with each other and with their families so easily - email is more efficient than letters, and it's better to go out with a cellphone than wait by a landline all day.

Do they use Facebook?

"I'm a - what's it called?" said Angie O'Dell, 72.

"A lurker," Keeney supplied, using classic millennial-speak for someone who takes to social networks to check up on friends and family without posting any of their own information.

O'Dell jotted down the word on her notepad, all the better to interact with her younger relatives.

Thursday's class helped with that, too: Everyone left with a handout filled with popular text-message abbreviations.

"So if you have grandkids," Smith said, "you can see what on earth they're talking about."

For information about future cellphone and computer classes with senior services, call 304-348-0707, or visit

Contact writer Shay Maunz at or 304-348-4886.


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