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“Aging with Attitude” is our motto at Senior Planet. This motto means different things to different people, but it all comes down to our mission to help seniors learn and use technology so they can live better in the digital age.
Senior Planet is the flagship program of Older Adults Technology Services (OATS), an AARP charitable affiliate where I currently work as senior digital community relations and product specialist. To me, our motto means we get better with age.
I was born in the Democratic Republic of Congo, a country with a culture of profound respect for elders. In my culture, aging is a sign of wisdom and power. The governance of the family is a gerontocracy. Younger members of the family have an innate duty to care for their elders and to follow their lead. It’s why I was drawn to Senior Planet and why I’m proud of the work I do here.
When I first moved to the United States, I lived in Missouri before joining the Army. During my combat medic training at Joint Base-San Antonio, I fell in love with the city and decided to move here once I finished my Army contract.
I enrolled at the University of Texas at San Antonio, pursuing a degree in computer information systems and cybersecurity. While I was a student, I had a side gig as a driver with Uber. One night, I picked up a passenger downtown who noticed my UTSA sticker and was happy to hear that I was interested in cybersecurity. At the end of the ride, she gave me her business card and asked me to join her nonprofit team. That passenger was DeAnne Cuellar, the Senior Planet State Program Director in Texas. After doing some research and speaking with DeAnne about the organization, I joined her team as a technology trainer.
When I started in April of 2019, the Senior Planet program in San Antonio was only a few months old. As new as Senior Planet San Antonio was, it never felt like it. I joined seven very caring and hardworking people who welcomed me with open arms, and I automatically felt like I was part of a beautiful family.
Not having a brick-and-mortar center never got in the way of the Senior Planet team in San Antonio from making an impact on older adults across the city. In fact, it helped the program foster lasting relationships with partner organizations that have aligned interests. Partnering with sites like SA Hope Center, Claude Black Community Center, Conviva Legacy and Ella Austin Community Center helped us reach older adults in different parts of San Antonio.
My work initially consisted of driving to our partner sites and delivering Senior Planet classes and workshops directly to seniors. The work itself was always exciting and engaging. My favorite class to teach was Computer Essentials, which aimed to introduce the use of computers in the lives of the participants. It was a very happy moment when one of the participants in my very first class applied for work online for the first time ever and was able to secure an interview. The impact of this first class on the participants’ lives was quick and easy to notice.
Although I was the one conducting the classes, I was also the one learning the most. I taught older adults how to use today’s technology trends to keep up with the world and avoid falling victim to isolation. In return, I learned many invaluable lessons about life itself. Andy Rooney was very right when he said, “the best classroom in the world is at the feet of an elderly person.” Occasionally, we would drift from the course and talk about life. Patience, kindness and living every day happy and to the fullest are just a few of the great lessons that I received from my class participants. My work as a technology trainer brought me a lot of joy, and I got to hang out with awesome people who always left me better than when I met them.
Our programming centers around five impact areas and technology is surprisingly not one of them. We engage seniors around mainstream technology to drive life changes in the impact areas of social engagement, health and wellness, financial security, advocacy and civic engagement, and lifelong learning and creative expression.
Senior Planet has developed some robust ideas about how older people interact with technology and create world-class programs that can form the basis for systems change — changing the way the world views older adults, the way we communicate with and treat them, the way most things, including new technologies, are not age-friendly.
When the COVID-19 pandemic shut down in-person programming, we knew that older adults who did not know how to use technology to stay in touch with the world would experience increased isolation. We took the initiative to call and train seniors over the phone on how to use Zoom. Yes, it was challenging, but it only took a few months to have the entire organization fully operating online. No longer tied to physical locations, we were able to reach even more people with our programs.
After two years as a part-time technology trainer, I recently transitioned into a full-time position as senior digital community relations and product specialist. In this position, I can make even more of an impact on seniors.
My main responsibility is to manage and launch our newest platform that will bring the experience of being at a physical Senior Planet center online. The social platform is exclusive to older adults and will provide them with a safe and ad-free space where they can engage with other older adults with similar interests and share their wisdom and experience whenever and from wherever they wish to. I work closely with a website developer team and with many older adults to make this new platform as age-friendly as possible. We are set to release the platform internally first, then to the public in spring 2022.
We face an increasing number of isolation cases among older adults, especially with the COVID-19 pandemic, and this platform could be a huge step toward solving this crisis. I’m lucky to work on projects like these that can make a real impact on the lives of so many and to work at a nonprofit organization with a mission I can stand behind.