Seniors get with the program

Penticton computer club connects seniors with technology

President Rita Jacuk of the Penticton Seniors Computer Club and member Horst Bambullis talk programs at the group’s headquarters in the Winnipeg Street Leisure Centre.

President Rita Jacuk of the Penticton Seniors Computer Club and member Horst Bambullis talk programs at the group’s headquarters in the Winnipeg Street Leisure Centre.

If you’re frustrated with Frank, cursing over Ken and ticked about Ted, then don’t worry, there’s a group for you.

The Penticton Seniors Computer Club is opening its doors to seniors with all levels of technological experience to keep in touch with family and friends by keeping up with the times.

Grappling with computers can be a struggle no matter what age you are, but with this club, when they get teed off with technology, it gets personal.

“All the computers have names,” club president Rita Jacuk said, pointing out the towers with labels including Ken, Ted, Chris and Al.

She explains it makes computers less intimidating when the machines are demystified, and it’s that casual approach that has kept seniors coming back for more.

“People come in with their problems, and it’s quite a busy place,” she said.

The club was formed in 1997 by a handful of seniors who felt it might be useful to learn about the new PCs coming out onto the market that were offering that new-fangled thing called the Internet. They met initially in the retirement centre with two old donated computers. They figured they would open it up to a few more seniors in the area, to see if there was any interest.

Jacuk said she first saw an ad in the paper about a session in 1998 and decided to give it a try.

“The room was wall-to-wall seniors, and they all wanted to learn computers,” she laughed.

“Over the years, we got larger and larger, so we got our own room.”

Membership costs $75 per year, and covers classes ranging from beginner to advanced as well as one-on-one help and troubleshooting during drop-in days. Last year membership surged to 250, although about 190 attended regularly.

“We’ve never had to turn anyone away. We’ve always managed to accommodate everybody,” Jacuk said.

Proceeds of membership are reinvested into computer equipment so seniors are working with the latest and greatest technology available —  including an overhead projector and separate labs for PCs and Macs.

Costs are kept to a minimum, vice-president Al Miller said, because they draw members with strong computer literacy as peer teachers.

“It’s seniors teaching seniors,” Miller said. “We’ll take them as long as they have the ability to instruct. You’re left to your own to choose how you want to teach. Some are like a classroom, and some are more personal.”

Penticton resident Bert Witt dropped by Friday for some help with configuring email.

“I’ve got an old clunker at home, but I bought a new laptop and couldn’t figure out how to set up email,” the 76-year-old said, gesturing at the protective bag in his hands.

He didn’t have a lot of experience with computers in the grocery business before he retired, but Witt said Friday’s drop-in was well worth the time.

“It’s done marvels for me,” he said, the relief evident on his face. “He’s done everything for me. I’ve learned so much. Does that mean I don’t have to go to school now?”

He said he’s taken a few classes here and there to learn how to use programs like Skype, which keeps him in touch with his daughter who lives on the coast.

And if you’re going to do it, the computer club’s motto seems to be to do it well. In addition to teaching seniors the basics of PC- and Mac-based operating systems and programs, a few courses are set up for those with intermediate skills looking to get creative in computing.

Wednesday afternoons are devoted to making CDs with slideshows featuring music and pictures, or building their own websites. Past-president and instructor Mike Watt said that allows participants to come up with family memories worth saving for years to come.

“You can add photos in, but you can also delete Uncle Henry who no one ever liked anyway,” Watt explained. “Then you can tie it all in with genealogy, if they’re into that. It’s a very popular workshop.”

For information on courses, membership or even just information sheets, seniors can check out If they’re still new to that Internet thing, they can still use a phone to ask questions: 250-770-7848.