New technology-themed institute brings tech-hungry seniors downtown | News | Palo Alto Online |


New technology-themed institute brings tech-hungry seniors downtown

Senior Planet opens first west coast hub in Palo Alto

Gaye Courtney, left, and Maybelle Freeman learn how to use an iPad during a class by Senior Planet, a technology-themed organization aimed at keeping older adults up to date on the latest trends. Avenidas@450Bryant in Palo Alto is the only location on the west coast to house the New York-based organization's satellite program. Photo by Sammy Dallal.

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 For more information on Senior Planet, go to


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What is it worth to you?


9 people like this
Posted by Binary Bill
a resident of Community Center
on Feb 7, 2020 at 9:56 am

Some older people are either too lazy or intimidated by computers.

I've spoken to a number of them & this cop-out always comes up as an excuse.

On the other hand, there are many computer-literate senior citizens who are very savvy in the use of an Apple or PC.

You can lead a horse to water (in this case a computer) but you cannot make him/her drink.

13 people like this
Posted by Old Person
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 7, 2020 at 10:23 am

Dear Binary Bill,

Wow, such a positive outlook on life! There probably is a group of people that don't choose to use computers much and there probably is a group of people that are intimidated by computers. And that group probably includes people of all ages - not just seniors. Isn't the introduction of Senior Planet in Palo Alto a positive aspect in increasing the number of people that are not intimidated by computers?!

Senior Planet is a non-profit agency and perhaps has a need for proficient computer user volunteers to teach computer literacy. Why don't you come on down to Senior Planet and see if you can help them - but please leave the negative attitude at the door. See you soon?

6 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of South of Midtown
on Feb 7, 2020 at 10:50 am

Senior centers are important in cities like Palo Alto where the high cost of housing causes the population to be much older than the national average.

8 people like this
Posted by Security first, please.
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 7, 2020 at 11:53 am

I hope that part of this training includes showing folks how to keep their information SECURE.

Seniors are often targets of fraud. Make sure you teach them how to use tech SAFELY as you teach them how to access tech.

11 people like this
Posted by Great classes
a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 7, 2020 at 12:59 pm

This is a great resource. I've already taken a couple of their iPad classes and found them extremely helpful. Although I have been using my computer for all the basics, there is so much I don't know how to do. I'm planning on taking more of their classes.

5 people like this
Posted by a senior
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 7, 2020 at 2:44 pm

I took a class at Senior Planet and was really disappointed. The students were treated like children.
There was a work book that appeared to be written for elementary children, with questions and quizzes and yes, blank pages, instead of straight forward clear information, and how-to.
It's humiliating to be treated like a child.

10 people like this
Posted by Another Senior
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 7, 2020 at 3:12 pm

>> I took a class at Senior Planet and was really disappointed. The students were treated like children.

There was a work book that appeared to be written for elementary children, with questions and quizzes and yes, blank pages, instead of straight forward clear information, and how-to.

It's humiliating to be treated like a child.

^^^I currently reside in an RCFE (retirement community for elders) & we get treated the same way by these nitwit attendants who don't even have a vocational degree from a JC because they are not required to.

I most certainly would rely on these boobs to teach me anything about comouters as most are preoccupied with their iPhones/Androids on social media...out of curiosity I've asked a few & this was confirmed. A bunch of boobs.

5 people like this
Posted by Another Senior
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 7, 2020 at 3:14 pm

TYPO..I most certainly would NOT rely on these boobs to teach me anything about COMPUTERS.

9 people like this
Posted by Yay! (maybe)
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 7, 2020 at 6:24 pm

I'm thrilled to see a Senior Planet here, but this doesn't seem like what I read about in Technology Review about the one in New York
Web Link

"Roughly one in five arrive wanting to use technology to work and make money"

"Kamber’s nonprofit has created a platform of sorts to empower those seniors to “uncork their lives.”"

But notice they talk about the Palo Alto Senior Planet in the article, too, and it doesn't jive with the description above.

The article also points out that
"The ageism of the era is perhaps best exemplified by Mark Zuckerberg’s infamous assertion back in 2007 that “young people are just smarter,”
... The drop-off was particularly marked for older women; the researchers speculated—depressingly, but not surprisingly—that women’s physical appearance is more important in service-related careers, and women’s physical aging was judged more harshly than men’s."

This despite the fact that another article in the same issue points out that the fastest growing startups are begun by people with an average age of 45 and 50-year-old founder is almost twice as likely to start a successful startup than a 30-year-old found.

Senior Planet is supposedly helping seniors to combat all that. I don't think a few classes in which the seniors are treated like children is going to do that.

So, personally, I really am not interested in classes. I would really love to go in an get help with my website, and creating a more steady income stream so I can afford an assistant. The things I could do if I had an assistant!! I would love to get help with a more reliable research paper database and citation manager, one that doesn't become obsolete every few months to anyone who isn't part of a big organization with tech support. I would love help finding a way to complete my PhD which I had to leave when I was younger because of unforeseen events, but in a way that doesn't require unnecessary hoop jumping. A dissertation-only PhD. And help finding financing for it.

As an analogy, it's the difference between taking a screenwriting course that tells you how to write a screenplay (from which very few scripts result) and a course that helps you write it. I want the latter. I want to be able to get help when I have questions that crop of in service of my DOING something, which is exactly what that first article talked about. We seniors need something that plays to OUR strengths, not the strengths of young people who have more energy do deal with unnecessary arcana.

Tech savvy seniors today have had to learn and relearn something completely new every few years, and very little of it introduced with any regard for the importance of maintaining workflow or the impact on people's time. A lot of seniors don't want to deal with new technology because it's just a time sink that doesn't buy them anything. How many versions of Word does one really need in life? (Hey, anyone want to start a new computer company with me? Let's make one that saves people TIME over the attention sucking bricks everyone else is selling....) I'd like to volunteer to resurrect Eudora now that the code has been open-sourced, only make it work with IMAP better. (No productivity tool since has ever come close.) But I'd like to get up to speed quickly on the skills rather than taking years of classes.

In other words, I have lots of work and hobby technology goals, and taking a bunch of time-consuming classes downtown assumes I have a lot of time on my hands and nothing better to do. The article talks about support seniors to get things done with the urgency they feel with less time -- what about that?

I LOVE that Senior Planet has come here, please tell me it hasn't been watered down from the one in New York here in the hear of Silicon Valley?

4 people like this
Posted by Joan Price
a resident of another community
on Feb 8, 2020 at 12:27 pm

"The watch party for Joan Ryan's talk" should be "The watch party for Joan Price's talk." I know, because I'm the speaker, Joan Price. Learn more about this FREE watch party at Web Link. Join us!

8 people like this
Posted by mjh
a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 8, 2020 at 4:06 pm

"Palo Alto where the high cost of housing causes the population to be much older than the national average."

For some reason I keep seeing this assertion repeated, particularly supporters of Palo Alto Forward, but according to the 2010 census:

23.4% children under 18
4.9% 18-24
26.6% 25-44
28% 45-64
17.1% 65+
Median age 41.9.

Population 64,403
Household 26,493
Families 16,477

It will be interesting if the 2020 will show a big change in the percentage of residents over 65, but I don't believe that the percentage of residents over 65 is that much higher than elsewhere.

4 people like this
Posted by mjh
a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 8, 2020 at 4:07 pm


Senior Planet offers one on one help as well as classes.

Like this comment
Posted by jvpadojino
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 10, 2020 at 12:03 pm

@Joan Price: Thank you for bringing that line to our attention. The story has been updated with the correct last name. -Jamey Padojino, Palo Alto Online digital editor

3 people like this
Posted by Thomas Kamber
a resident of another community
on Feb 11, 2020 at 7:10 am

This is Tom Kamber, the executive director at OATS/Senior Planet, and I want to respond to the comment by a senior from Downtown North who said they took a course at Senior Planet and had a bad experience. First of all, thanks for your honest feedback! Senior Planet courses have a satisfaction rate of over 90%, but we can only achieve this with constructive feedback and by matching participants with courses that are appropriate for them. If you're open to sharing more about your experience, please call us at 917-863-4658; we’d love to talk with you about how we can improve this course.

I'd also like to respond to the user who said they'd read about Senior Planet in the MIT Technology Review. All Senior Planet locations employ the same award-winning core materials; the books used in Palo Alto are identical to the ones used in New York, so you can expect the same quality. At the same time, each location has the freedom to customize Senior Planet offerings for the needs of local members, which allows them to be even more relevant and of-the-moment. If courses aren’t for you, please check out the workshops, events, and one-on-one tech sessions that may help you reach your personal goals.

Again, thanks so much for your honest questions and feedback. We love hearing from you, so feel free to give us a call at the number above if you'd like to talk further.

3 people like this
Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 11, 2020 at 7:29 am

What a cool resource to have. I think we owe a huge shoutout to Avenidas. If they are ever looking for a great MAC coach, I hope they contact Liz O'Brien. She's really good.

Palo Alto is lucky to have a senior center such as Avenidas and doubly lucky that Avenidas has a person like Amy Andonian at its helm. She is exceptional in many ways: a true advocate for seniors, resourceful, smart, good at bridging generations, enthusiastic, and pleasant.

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