Seniors on the Net and Returns for the Community

Organization Information:

Organization Name:
Upper Albany Neighborhood Collaborative
City & State:
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Organization's Mission Statement

Mission: The Upper Albany Neighborhood Collaborative is dedicated to the empowerment of the residents of Upper Albany through the establishment of block clubs, job iniatives, educational programs, a youth council and initiatives, housing and economic development. Through these programs, the Collaborative will strive to make the Upper Albany Community a better place to live, work, shop and enjoy recreational activities.

Submission Information

Impact Essay

Upper Albany Seniors on the Net and Returns for the Community


As in most areas of this nation, there exists in Hartford a digital divide that continues to disadvantage the residents of low-income communities. The UANC has used the wonderful services of Tech Soup and its affiliation with Microsoft to upgrade our offices to improve our communication mechanisms with the community. The past year, however, we have focused more on using this relationship for direct benefit to the residents of the area with at least two programs: 1) provision of computer skills training for seniors and 2) to provide free online preparation of Income Tax Returns for residents.

Seniors on the Net

As the nation has moved more and more to communicating and operating with citizens through online programs and services, most seniors were through adulthood, beyond established learning programs and were left behind. The maturing of the internet and its emerging communication dynasty has not been a welcomed event for them. While the young are completely comfortable and familiar with the technology through school and gaming, seniors and older adults are fearful of attempting to learn such a ‘difficult’ thing. Having been engaged in several conversations at community forums, our organization discovered that companies were donating computers to organizations for eventual donation to citizens, a good thing, however the recipients had no idea how to operate them and were uncomfortable asking for help. Thus our Board decided to move a program forward to address this problem and partnered with an Information Systems Professional, who grew up in the area, to create a non-threatening computer class geared toward seniors and other adults with no or limited experience with computers.

But how? For equipment, we acquired stripped down older laptops from the FBI, who was in the disposal process after having received new equipment. And when they strip them, they strip them. They have no programs, no hard drives, no sounds, very little. With guidance from the systems professional, we made an order from Tech Soup for the necessary Microsoft programs, namely:

Title: Office 2003 Professional (Includes Software Assurance) Quantity: 10 Title: Windows XP Professional Upgrade (Includes Software Assurance) Quantity: 15 along with, Title: Norton Internet Security 2007 -- Retail Version (DVD) (10-pack) Quantity: 1 Total: $358

With help from a co-worker, she basically re-built operational laptops in these shells and in the number that could support several students at a time. In addition, hard drives were sought and obtained through the internet.

Do to the age of the laptops, downloads were not possible and therefore uploads were required as provided by disk. The same professional agreed to teach evening classes. The significance of securing the laptops is that they are not as intimidating to the seniors as the large desk tops. Desktops, however, were also scavenged and rebuilt thanks to Tech Soup and Microsoft, and are used in later lessons regarding the internet, once students are comfortable. This allows the participants to communicate with younger relatives in the media they prefer, keep up with neighborhood and City activities and opportunities and communicate with government agencies, which isn’t always easy face-to-face.

The program has been launched with the initial class participants and the first 10 are expected to be completing their beginner classes before the end of June. Specialty classes will begin in August which will concentrate on areas of interest such as word, excel, Power Point and Publisher. Already, students are planning for block club newsletters and flyers.

Older residents who walked in with obvious fear that it was too late to learn the computer, leave smiling triumphantly saying “I’m really getting this”.

In an associated activity, the upgrades have produced an unexpected benefit. Returns for Residents The UANC is a part of a network called the Asset-building Collaborative that strives to improve the financial condition of families and individuals eligible for the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). In these families, the largest single discretionary allocation of money is the income tax return. These families have become a market for paid preparers and the costs are increasing with ‘instant refunds’ and other loan programs. Thus a more significant portion of the return is being claimed by the preparers each year. In partnership with the Internal Revenue Service, the Collaborative works with organizations such as UANC to recruit volunteers to be trained in tax preparation and to provide these services at no cost to the community. In past years the IRS has had to provide temporary equipment to agencies, including UANC to operate this program. This year, due to upgrades to the office computers through Tech Soup, UANC was able to provide free online income tax preparation for residents; accelerate the return time for 2008 income tax returns, encourage direct deposits (reducing check cashing charges) and offer other financial planning services. Over 600 returns were completed during the first quarter by this all-volunteer office, managed and operated by neighborhood residents, infusing over $1 million dollars into the community.

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