W.V. equipping elderly with computers

Government agencies in West Virginia are joining with businesses and volunteer

organizations to get surplus computers into the hands of senior citizens.

Started as a pilot program in four counties, the Senior Technology Initiative

will bring more than 200 computers to 44 state-supported senior citizen

centers in 11 counties. The program is to be extended to the rest of the

state's 55 counties beginning this autumn, according to Gov. Cecil Underwood's

office.

Mission West Virginia, the nonprofit organization that Underwood established

in 1997 to promote volunteerism among faith-based organizations, is spearheading

the delivery and installation of the used computers and related hardware.

Mission West Virginia acquired the computers from government and private

sources and paid to upgrade them so they have Internet and e-mail capability.

Most of the computers have come from the federal government's General

Services Administration, said Dan Page, spokesman for the governor .

Joining Mission West Virginia in the program are:

* The governor's Office of Technology.

* The West Virginia Bureau of Senior Services.

* West Virginia's Adult Basic Education office. Staff members will offer

computer training free of charge at the senior centers.

* Microsoft Corp.

* Verizon Communications, the telecom giant formed by the merger of

Bell Atlantic and GTE Corp.

* Internet service provider EZ-Net of Oconto, Wis.

The effort ties into larger initiatives to increase literacy skills.

"It's an ambitious project, but closing the digital divide is very important,"

Page said.

Mission West Virginia already has donated 480 computers to 60 churches

and other faith-based organizations. Page said the Senior Technology Initiative

aims to encourage senior citizens to give services such as mentoring or

tutoring back to their community, once they have access to technology.

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