Luring seniors with the Web

To keep older residents from moving from Chicago, Mayor Richard Daley is equipping a new batch of senior centers with computers, Internet access and training.

The 10 new state-of-the-art Senior Satellite centers are a major part of Daley's Neighborhoods Alive! With Seniors initiative launched last year.

Recommendations in the initiative also call for some of the expected $400 million in funding to go toward an aggressive communications outreach program that will put information about federal, state and local benefits at the fingertips of seniors by way of newsletters, television and the Internet.

Anna Willis, commissioner for the Chicago Department on Aging (www.ci.chi.il.us/Aging), said that such a program should help combat the notion that seniors have been shy to take to new technologies. "We've been conducting computer classes at our senior center for six years now, and our seniors are usually antsy to get in there," she said. "They want to learn how to e-mail and surf right away."

Willis said part of the new initiative will involve classes taught by graduate students and instructors from the Illinois Institute of Technology. "Most associations and organizations have been behind the curve on the importance of this issue of not leaving any sector of society behind," said Jim Emerman, senior vice president at the American Society on Aging. "Everyone sees something like [the Telecommunications Act of 1996] as being great because it works to wire libraries and schools, and that's great. But it virtually ignores areas that are senior-oriented."

One of the new satellite centers will be located at the home office of the Chicago-based Senior Lifestyle Corp. (www.senr.com), a national provider of residential services and care to seniors. "It's really in the next five to 10 years, as the baby boomers age, that we're going to see a real senior-oriented move toward such technology," said Bonnie Kaplan, director of marketing and communications for the SLC.

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