Older adults attended the opening of a technology lab in May, eager to begin learning on the slim repurposed laptops.

Located at the administrative offices of the New Bedford Council on Aging, the lab officially kicked off with 12 laptops and classes scheduled to begin the third week of June. The venture is a partnership between Coastline Elderly Services, who provided the laptops, and the COA, with support from the Massachusetts Broadband Institute and the Massachusetts Healthy Aging Collaborative.

“There’s never been so much support for older adults to connect through technology and to learn to use devices the way they want to,” said Justin Lees about the project. “May is Older Americans month and the perfect time to celebrate the 2024 theme, ‘Powered by Connection.’”

Coastline was awarded $236,000 of a $3 million MBI grant to support technology access for older adults. Through the funding, the organization plans to offer classes at Councils on Aging in the region, starting with New Bedford and Rochester in June.

More locations and classes are in the development phase.

“We’re trying to be as flexible as possible and meet specific needs of seniors,” said Coastline Planning Director Zach Boyer, noting classes will include instruction on computers and Apple and Android smartphones. “We also know that small class sizes where participants get one-on-one assistance when they need it works best.”

New Bedford COA Director Pamela Amaral-Lema expressed her gratitude for the collaboration’s work, before cutting the ribbon at the May 21 event.

“Since the pandemic we have seen how crucial computers, tablets, smartphones, and other electronic devices have been in interacting with loved ones and in our work professions,” she said. “These technological advancements have helped reduce social isolation for many older adults, but many have been left unaware of how to navigate these devices. So, we are here to bridge the gap.”

Several events led Coastline to support the city’s technology lab, said Boyer, including the increase in social isolation that took place during the pandemic and a subsequent 2021 assessment where older adults ranked technology training as their most important need. Since then, he said,

Coastline has offered 150 classes to 250 people in the region.

“Each step led to our success and our community’s success, especially with the support of all of our partners and elected officials who are always there for us when we need them,” Boyer said.

Theresa Nowell, an aide to Sen. Mark Montigny, said she was there to represent the senator but also herself as a senior citizen. She understands firsthand the importance of the technology lab, she said. “If I did not have technology help, I feel as though I would be lost in today’s society,” she said.

Rep. Tony Cabral called technology an unavoidable part of the current age. “Technology is always changing,” he said. “In this visual age, technology creates access. It creates connection to the world.”

“Having this technology help through the Council on Aging is awesome,” said Rep. Chris Hendricks. “These are really relevant devices that are going to help people stay connected.”

The first technology classes will be held from 9 a.m. to noon on June 18 and 20 at the Rochester Council on Aging and on June 25, 26, and 27 at the New Bedford Council on Aging. Kraig Perry, who currently teaches classes at Coastline, will be the instructor.

For details and to sign up, call Dionne Gomes at 508- 742-9160 or email dgomes@coastlinenb.org.