Saco resident Connie Boutet is more tech savvy these days, now that she’s had lessons on how to use her cell phone and tablet from Age Friendly Saco Technology Handy Helper volunteer David Steed. Andrew Dickinson/City  of Saco Photo

SACO — If you’re an eligible Saco senior citizen, you could learn how to bridge the digital divide and acquire a tablet device to keep connected with the world. 

Just ask Connie Boutet, who admitted to the people at Age Friendly Saco that she isn’t the most tech-savvy individual. 

But as COVID-19 has meant seniors like Boutet are increasingly more isolated, she saw an opportunity to learn new skills to help her stay connected. 

“I know a gal who keeps her cell phone in the closet,” she told Saco officials. “I want to join the party.” 

Age Friendly Saco is connecting 25 older people with tablets and providing training on how to use them. 

Pairing with the organization’s Technology Handy Helpers program, full training is being provided to make sure participants get the most out of their new devices. 

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The mission of Age Friendly Saco is to promote active aging by optimizing opportunities for health, engagement, and safety while removing barriers that prevent citizens from remaining in their homes as they age.  

Organization Director Jean Saunders said COVID-19 has brought into full view the issues some older residents are experiencing in their inability to access the internet. 

“In many communities, as has occurred in Saco, the only access that some of our older residents had was the local computer room at their local library,” Saunders said. “This room has been closed indefinitely due to the pandemic, and this program aims to find an alternate solution to provide that valuable resource for our community members.” 

The pandemic has also meant some health care providers “see” patients by telehealth appointments. 

“Many of our older residents do not have the training or resources to get connected,” Saunders said. 

The Technology Handy-Helpers program consists of trained volunteers with experience in helping residents’ access new types of technology that will allow them, at a relatively low cost, to be safer in their homes and feel less socially isolated. They have installed “virtual personal assistant” devices, such as the Echo Dot, in some of Saco’s older residents’ households, helped with existing technology like cell phones or tablets, and installed smart home devices such as plugs to control lights. 

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David Steed, an Age Friendly Saco technology volunteer, answered the call when Boutet initially needed help with her cell phone. 

“We don’t know what they need until we get there,” he said. “We ask: ‘What’s the problem, what do you need help with?’” while at the same time keeping  the new technology users from feeling overwhelmed.

The volunteers help residents learn how to fully use all that the devices can do to help keep them safe. 

Saunders said volunteers set up reminders when leaving the house such as “do you have your keys,” or, “is the stove turned off.” They also set up a tablet so that an individual’s contacts can be accessed during emergency as well as reminders for medications and appointments. 

Boutet and Steed  have installed a smart plug, and Steed helped her set up and understand her tablet and cell phone and later, an Echo Dot Now she asks her “Alexa” device to play music, usually Lawrence Welk, and is learning more each week, said Saunders. 

“I’ve been asking Alexa for phone numbers lately,” Boutet said, “and I’m going to ask about spelling, too.” 

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The new tablet program will follow the same income guidelines currently in place by the City of Saco to determine property tax relief eligibility to low income seniors. To learn more about the guidelines, contact Age Friendly Saco at (207)710-5029 or [email protected]. 

“Since the mission of Age Friendly Saco is to enable our community members to age in place, this program will allow them to stay home and still have access to the news, telehealth visits, and stay connected with family and friends,” said Saunders. “Social isolation has been and will continue to be an issue with this age demographic as this high-risk population is encouraged to continue to practice social isolation for prolonged periods.” 

When Boutet reflected on what it was like to meet with Steed for the first time and make the decision to learn new technology, she told Saunders it wasn’t so hard. 

“I just thought of him as a friend, and now I have a friend,” Boutet said. 

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