Exploring with Google Maps. Video Chat. Smartphone Photography.
These are just some of the free technology classes offered to older adults in the community through Senior Planet Montgomery.
“Our mission is to change the way that people view aging,” says Shivali Haribhakti, regional director of Senior Planet Montgomery.
Boasting the tagline “Aging with Attitude,” Senior Planet, the flagship program of the national nonprofit Older Adults Technology Services (OATS), teaches seniors how to use the latest tech gadgets so that they can continue to learn, grow and connect. The Montgomery County chapter, one of six Senior Planet locations across the county, was established in 2015 as the result of a partnership between OATS and local government.
Senior Planet Montgomery originally offered its free programs for those ages 60 and older in person at senior centers and libraries in the county. When the pandemic hit last spring, it transitioned to100 percent virtual and began offering classes such as how to use Zoom.
“Those were definitely our most popular classes, and we continue to draw significant attendance there,” says Haribhakti.
While there are plenty of technology classes available, including how to use delivery apps and how to pay your bills online, Senior Planet Montgomery also offers a variety of online fitness classes, virtual tours and discussion groups. The goal is to bring older adults together while helping them to navigate today’s digital world. Good Morning Montgomery, for example, meets on Zoom every two weeks and is a place where “we socialize, we share
and we check in on how we’re doing,” Haribhakti says.
Since its move to virtual programming, participation in Senior Planet Montgomery classes has doubled, reaching thousands of community members. Being virtual also means participants can attend Senior Planet events around the country. “You can easily pop in and see what’s going on in San Antonio, New York or Colorado,” says Haribhakti.
One of Senior Planet Montgomery’s regular participants is 66-year-old Rita Dhawan of Rockville, a retired biomedical researcher originally from India. She joined the program in April after receiving an email from the county offering help for seniors when COVID started.
Dhawan, who lives alone, started taking online exercise classes as a way to form social connections during the pandemic. “I was looking for people to interact with and … basically be able to talk to someone,” says Dhawan.
She calls the classes and events offered by Senior Planet Montgomery a blessing for older adults who are often isolated.
“There are many, many, many seniors who are unable to drive and go to the centers. So, when this program comes to them, it is easier for them,” she says.