Kent Co. senior millage extension to boost nonprofit’s new technology support program

A Grand Rapids nonprofit providing independent living services received a boost last week when Kent County voters extended a senior services millage that will help the organization’s recently launched technology support program.

County voters in last week’s election approved the eight-year senior millage extension by a wide margin, according to the Kent County clerk’s office. The millage will generate about $13.3 million this year to support more than 50 services.

Senior Neighbors, a Grand Rapids nonprofit that helps local seniors maintain independence, last month announced its technology support program that includes group workshops, one-on-one support and a technology lending library for residents over the age of 60.

Nonprofit officials say the program will help seniors adapt to — and participate in — the rapidly shifting technology landscape.

“One of the common themes with a lot of our clients is the feeling of being overwhelmed by the technology demands in their lives,” said Peter Kortenhoven, Senior Neighbors program coordinator. “A lot of the services they apply for, a lot of the forms and communication happens via the internet — online documents and things like that.” 

Basic tech literacy has become an important key to independent living, Kortenhoven added. 

“I think technology is an area where we’re leaving the older generation behind the fastest,” Kortenhoven said. “We just thought it’d be great to have a program to bridge that gap.”

The program will equip seniors to use technology for a variety of purposes, including communicating with family and friends, completing online applications for services and navigating telehealth systems.

The program’s curriculum also includes an introduction to cybersecurity threats and internet fraud, which cost seniors more than $3 billion last year, according to the AARP. 

“We’re hoping that we can make an impact in that regard as far as teaching them what to look out for, who to respond to and who to not respond to, and what the markers are of someone trying to get their information,” Kortenhoven said.

Voters support seniors

Shortly after Senior Neighbors announced the technology support program, roughly 71 percent of Kent County voters approved an eight-year extension of the county’s senior services millage, according to unofficial election results. 

The Area Agency on Aging of Western Michigan (AAAWM) administers the millage funds in partnership with 32 local agencies.

Each year, the AAAWM identifies priorities for the millage funding. Technology was identified as a priority in 2021, and local officials selected Senior Neighbors as the partner to address that need. The Kent County Senior Millage Review Committee, made up of county commissioners and older adults from the community, approved Senior Neighbors’ proposal.

“We’ve seen the need really grow since COVID hit,” Kendrick Heinlein, AAAWM’s director of contract services and program development, said of technology programming for seniors. 

While a variety of support services are available to seniors in the area, most now require basic technology skills to access the programming, Heinlein said. 

“(Senior Neighbors is) a trusted partner. We’ve worked with them since the millage started in 1999,” Heinlein said. “Their proposal really had a mix of in-home and class sessions, which we wanted … and it really focused on serving all older adults.” 

The program welcomes all adults over 60. 

“The bottom message I would like to portray is that everyone is welcome and we really want to make a difference and help them boost their independence,” Kortonhoven said.

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