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A new generation of computer users

When "the girls" get together at Evergreen Knoll these days, chances are some of them are now a whole lot better "connected." That's because five or six of them have begun to learn the basics of how to use a computer, thanks to the initiative of ...

When "the girls" get together at Evergreen Knoll these days, chances are some of them are now a whole lot better "connected."

That's because five or six of them have begun to learn the basics of how to use a computer, thanks to the initiative of the Cloquet Public Library and head librarian Mary Lukkarila.

Lukkarila just finished up two weeks' worth of training sessions with the women last Friday, after meeting with them for hour-long sessions on Tuesdays and Fridays right there at their assisted living facility. Better yet, Lukkarila came with wireless laptops in hand so each "student" had her own computer to learn on.

The outreach program is the offshoot of a $26,000 Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) grant the Cloquet Public Library secured in 2005 to educate people age 55 and older in the Cloquet area about the basics of using a computer.

"Many senior citizens demonstrated a desire and need for training in the use of computers in order to use the library's catalog and the Internet, as well as for word processing," said Lukkarila.

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The grant request was successful, enabling the library to purchase 12 laptop computers, a computer server for the wireless network, a receiver for the broadband connection and a cart where the laptops can be recharged.

The library has since then hosted numerous computer classes for senior citizens - of all ages.

"Though the grant indicated the project was geared for 55 and older," said Lukkarila, "most of the people [who have taken the classes] are older - I've had some who are over 90! It's exciting that they want to learn. There's more pressure on senior citizens to become familiar with computers and do things online, especially with programs such as Medicare Part D and taxes. I also think a lot of them are just challenged by grandchildren who want them to go on e-mail."

Lukkarila said the benefits of computer learning for seniors are many and far-reaching.

"If they're housebound, it's a great way to get 'out' and keep their minds active," she said. "Even if someone is just playing Solitaire [on a computer], he or she is still doing something with their hands and their mind, and it's good."

Another part of the intended computer training program was to educate seniors out in the community.

"My original idea was that we could bring the computers out to the senior center for classes," said Lukkarila, "but the way the center is situated, in kind of a low point surrounded by trees, they didn't have an adequate Internet connection, so we couldn't do it there."

It seemed logical, therefore, that the next best thing was to take the computers and training program out to other locations convenient to senior citizens around the Cloquet area - locations such as Evergreen Knoll.

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"What a lot of the seniors there wanted was to be able to use e-mail and the Internet," said Lukkarila, "but they first needed to learn basic keyboarding skills and get experience using a mouse. I've been able to help get them practice on those things over the past couple of weeks, and now [Evergreen Knoll] volunteer Larraine Norrgard is going to help teach them how to use e-mail and the Internet."

She said Evergreen Knoll has a computer permanently set up at their facility, complete with access to the Internet, so residents without their own personal computers can practice on that. She said enthusiasm among the group of computer students was high, despite the hurdles some of them have to overcome in order to be computer-proficient.

"They're so thankful to be learning about all this," said Lukkarila. "That makes it all really worthwhile - the appreciation they express. Some of them have real disabilities, and I give credit to those who are trying to deal with issues resulting from strokes, arthritis, or whatever. It's a struggle for them, but it's often good therapy at the same time. They're not giving up. They're pushing themselves, and that's a really good thing."

Lukkarila said other groups interested in accessing computer training are welcome to call her at the library. The laptops can be checked out to groups for training at their own facility, or Lukkarila is willing to come along and offer basic instruction on them as well.

For more information, call 218-879-1531.

Pine Journal publisher/ reporter Wendy Johnson can be contacted at: wjohnson@pinejournal.com .

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