South Philadelphia: New Café Proves Seniors Can Be ‘Techies’

Members of the Philadelphia Senior Center help themselves to snacks at a VIP ceremony on Friday, Sept. 24.

Luvenia Black, 88, says the Philadelphia Senior Center is like her second home. She wakes up every day and rushes to get to get to the Senior Center at Broad and Lombard streets “like it’s her job,” and has been doing so for 22 years. She participates in classes and even serves on the center’s eco-active Green Team.

But there’s one thing Black doesn’t do – use a computer.

Volunteers serve healthy snacks at the VIP ceremony for the new GreenBean Internet Caf A member of the Philadelphia Senior Center celebrates the opening of the GreenBean Internet Café.

“My daughter has tried to get me to do do it,” Black said, “but I just say I’m not interested. I don’t have a computer at home.”

Still, Black said she “promises to try a computer soon,” thanks to the Senior Center’s new GreenBean Internet Café, which officially opened Sept. 20 and held a VIP celebration on Sept. 24 for seniors.

The opening of the café, which also featured renovations to the center’s dining hall, unveiled 10 new laptop computers with Wi-Fi access to accommodate to the 55-and-older seniors who congregate in the cafeteria for more than 45,000 meals a year.

The café’s makeover was made possible by a grant for $142,500 – the highest awarded this year through the support of Recovery Act funding – from the Pennsylvania Department of Aging.

The renovations come in light of a recent trend.

According to a Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project study, 70 percent of adults ages 50-64 had Internet access, and 56 percent had home broadband in December 2009.

Of those active users, 42 percent of them said they use the Internet to read news online, while 22 percent of them use it for online banking.

“Not all of [the seniors] understand Wi-Fi,” Senior Center Director Victoria Lynam said with a laugh, “But they do understand what they can use the Internet for.”

Lynam said the Senior Center has a computer lab in the basement, but it features immobile desktop computers and only offered instructors during class times.

A member of the Philadelphia Senior Center celebrates the opening of the GreenBean Internet Café.

“This is just more accessible for [the seniors],” Lynam said, adding the café will offer three to four tutors for seniors seeking one-on-one attention.

Edward Joseph, a South Philadelphia native and president of the Senior Center’s advisory council, said he’s been using computers since he was 74 years old as a student at the Philadelphia Community College. He said that while the renovations were underway this summer, he was so excited for the café he would “peep in” to keep an eye on the progress.

“It’s wonderful for those seniors who are afraid to use computers – that’s the big problem,” Joseph said. “Every day this week, I’ve used a computer.”

Joseph said he mainly uses the computers for digital photography – a skill he acquired through classes at the Senior Center – but would like to learn to use the Internet.

Ruthie Levikoff, 64, said she’s not a computer expert, but she’s getting  there. She recently purchased her own Macbook and attends private lessons at the Apple store in Ardmore, Pa.

She said the best part of the café’s renovations is the overall atmosphere.

“You don’t get the feel that it’s just a cafeteria with paper plates and Styrofoam things,” Levikoff said. “I actually think coffee tastes different in a mug. I just feel like it makes the whole atmosphere more dignified. I think that makes a difference to people.”

Members of the Philadelphia Senior Center help themselves to snacks at a VIP ceremony on Sept. 24.

In addition to the Senior Center’s new wallpaper, which was chosen by votes from the seniors, the café boasts new lighting, a remodeled ceiling and an Energy Star dishwasher, in keeping with the new eco-friendly café’s mission to protect the environment.

New snack kiosks were also added to the dining hall, as well as a 30-year-old mural that was restored and updated to fit the café’s decor by a Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts student.

“It was getting to be really very dumpy, but now it’s very sharp,” Levikoff said, motioning a thumbs-up of approval.

Lynam said the café’s updated look reflects the members that frequent the Senior center.

“It’s really amazing to me the variety of things the older people do here besides play Bingo,” Lynam said, adding that exercise, art, tai chi and drama classes are among the most popular activities at the Senior Center.

“We do play bingo – but only once a week,” Lynam added with a laugh.

Joseph said while he loves participating in the various classes, he wishes seniors like Black would branch out and give the new laptops a chance.

“Sometimes they say, ‘My fingers won’t cooperate,'” Joseph said, adding he was afraid to use a computer before attending college. “But you just have to try it to keep going. That’s the way I see it.”

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