Senior Millage Extension by Kent Co. to promote New Technology Support Program by non-profit organizations

A Grand Rapids nonprofit that provides independent living services received a boost last week when Kent County voters expanded a senior services facility that will support the organization’s recently launched Technology Assistance Program.

County voters approved the millage’s eight-year extension by a wide margin in last week’s election, according to the Kent County Bureau’s bureau. The millage will generate approximately $13.3 million this year to support more than 50 services.

Elderly Neighborsa Grand Rapids nonprofit that helps seniors maintain their independence announced last month its technology assistance program, which includes group workshops, one-to-one assistance, and a technology lending library for residents over 60.

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

“One of the common themes of many of our clients is feeling overwhelmed by the technological demands of their lives,” said Peter Kortenhoven, Senior Neighbors program coordinator. “A lot of the services they request, a lot of forms and communication is done over the internet – online documents and things like that.”

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

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

The program will enable 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 hope we can make a difference in that regard by teaching them what to look out for, who to answer and who not, and the characteristics of someone trying to get their information,” Kortenhoven said.

Voters support seniors

Shortly after Senior Neighbors announced the Technology Assistance Program, around 71 percent of Kent County voters approved an eight-year extension of the county’s senior services, according to unofficial election results.

That Area Agency on Aging of Western Michigan (AAAWM) manages the Millage Funds in partnership with 32 local agencies.

Each year, the AAAWM establishes priorities for Millage funding. Technology was identified as a priority in 2021 and local officials selected Senior Neighbors as partners to address this need. The Kent County Senior Millage Review Committee, made up of county commissioners and older adults from the community, approved the Senior Neighbors’ proposal.

“We’ve seen that the need has really grown since the outbreak of COVID,” said Kendrick Heinlein, director of contract services and program development at AAAWM, of technology programs for seniors.

While there are a variety of support services 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’ve been working with them since Millage started in 1999,” said Heinlein. “Her proposal really had a mix of home and classroom sessions, which is what we wanted … and really focused on ministering to all older adults.”

The program is open to all adults over 60.

“The bottom message I want to convey 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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