Downtown Palo Alto has been a longtime mecca for tech startups, and now it could be a destination for retired tech workers and other older adults hungry to know the latest trends.
Avenidas@450Bryant is the only west coast location where New York-based Senior Planet has opened a satellite hub specifically aimed at keeping older adults up to date on technology. The technology-themed institute, which opened its doors at the senior center last summer, offers classes on everything from iPad basics, smartphone photography and social media to more advanced topics such as cryptocurrency, net neutrality, fake news, autonomous vehicles, artificial intelligence, and privacy and security. The institute also hosts live-streamed watch parties on various topics — including the upcoming "Myths about sex and aging" scheduled for Tuesday, Feb. 11 — and is stocked with iPads, laptops, a 3-D printer, a PlayStation 4, a Nintendo Switch and virtual reality consoles that give seniors a hands-on opportunity to have fun with new devices.
Ryan Kawamoto, the Senior Planet regional director who sits in the Palo Alto office, described the program as a "social change model" focused on how technology can empower a person to do more.
"It's not just how to turn on and off an iPad, but how to use it for financial planning," Kawamoto said. "We're seeing a lot of quality of life issues — how to use Facetime, how to put birthdays on your smartphone or calendar, how to use Google calendar to balance a very busy lifestyle."
He said the program's curriculum model, along with tech support from the New York headquarters, make the courses more current and practical than traditional classes; they also attract participants with varying levels of prior knowledge, including those who have very limited knowledge to experienced tech users who might have worked at or helped to launch Silicon Valley companies.
"It's a great community resource," said Roberta Kehret, a longtime Palo Alto resident, who is working her way through several Senior Planet classes, including iPhone photography. "What I appreciate is that our senior center here is so different than across the country. In the Midwest they have things like Bingo, but this — the variety of classes and the areas that are covered — is like going to a community college."
Kehret said she now has a better understanding of privacy settings and social networks and is learning how to transfer what she knows how to do on her iPad onto her cell phone.
Avenidas CEO Amy Andonian said Avenidas was one of the first senior centers in the country to launch technology training for seniors decades ago, but declining participation in those traditional classes led her to search for a more engaging program.
She decided on Senior Planet, offering the group prime space at the senior center's newly renovated and expanded downtown building.
"Senior Planet made a name for itself by focusing not on technology for the sake of technology but on how tech can be a tool to empower people in different areas of their lives — health and wellness, art and creative expression, financial literacy, civic engagement and social connection," Andonian said. "For example, how do you meet people when you're older? Online dating is the norm. Or maybe you want to lose 15 pounds. A Fitbit could be a good way of tracking your activity, or maybe you form a walking group and have a contest on steps. So it's not about the Fitbit per se, but about the broader life goals."
Andonian said classes can even be tailored to address local interests.
The Senior Planet site in New York, she explained, launched a class focused on online dating after a group of seniors expressed interest in it.
"They were all single and wanted to get into the dating scene," she said.
Just like the New York site, Kawamoto said he plans to customize future course offerings in Palo Alto.
For all the tech talk, Kawamoto said, "The most-read articles on the Senior Planet website are the sex ones."
The watch party for Joan Price's talk, "Debunking the Seven Myths About Sex and Aging," will be 4-5:30 p.m., Tuesday, Feb. 11, at Senior Planet@Avenidas. To RSVP, email firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information on Senior Planet, go to seniorplanet.org.