Kent Co. senior millage extension to stimulate new non-profit technology support program

A Grand Rapids nonprofit providing independent living services got a boost last week when Kent County voters extended the scope of senior services that will help the organization’s recently launched technology support program.

County voters in last week’s election approved extending the eight-year retirement period by a wide margin, according to the Kent County Clerk’s office. The millage will generate about $13.3 million this year to support more than 50 services.

Elderly neighborsa Grand Rapids nonprofit that helps local seniors maintain independence, last month announced its Technology Support Program, which includes group workshops, one-on-one support and a technology lending library for residents 60 and older.

Nonprofit officials say the program will help seniors adapt to and participate in a rapidly changing technology landscape.

“One of the common themes with many of our clients is feeling overwhelmed by the technology demands in their lives,” said Peter Kortenhoven, Senior Neighbors program coordinator. “A lot of the services they’re applying for, a lot of the forms and the communication happens over the Internet — online documents and things like that.”

Basic technical literacy has become an important key to independent living, Kortenhoven added.

“I think technology is an area where we’re leaving the older generation behind the fastest,” Kortenhoven said. “We just thought it would be great to have a program to bridge that gap.”

The program will prepare seniors to use technology for a variety of purposes, including communicating with family and friends, completing online applications for services and navigating telehealth systems.

The program’s curriculum also includes an introduction to cybersecurity threats and Internet fraud, which cost seniors more than $3 billion last year, according to AARP.

“We’re hoping we can make an impact in that regard by teaching them what to look out for, who to respond to and who not to respond to, and what the markers are of someone trying to get their information,” Kortenhoven said. .

Voters support seniors

Shortly after Senior Neighbors announced the technology support program, roughly 71 percent of Kent County voters approved an eight-year extension of the number of seniors in the county, according to unofficial election results.

The West Michigan Regional Agency on Aging (AAAWM) administers the baling funds in partnership with 32 local agencies.

Each year AAAWM sets priorities for press funding. Technology was identified as a priority in 2021 and the local authority chose Senior Neighbors as a partner to address this need. The Kent County Senior Officials Review Committee, made up of county commissioners and community elders, approved the Senior Neighbors proposal.

“We’ve seen the need really grow since the impact of COVID,” said Kendrick Heinlein, AAAWM’s director of contract services and program development, about technology programming for seniors.

While a variety of support services are available to seniors in the area, most now require basic technology skills to access the programming, Heinlein said.

“(Senior Neighbors is) a trusted partner. We have been working with them since the beginning of milk processing in 1999,” Heinlein said. “Their proposal really had a mix of in-home and classroom sessions that we wanted … and really focused on serving all seniors.”

The program welcomes all adults over the age of 60.

“The main message I would like to get across is that everyone is welcome and we really want to make a difference and help them strengthen their independence,” Kortonhoven said.

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