By Joseph Salas
“Can I keep my plan?” That was the question of the year in 2012 as the Affordable Care Act, commonly referred to as Obamacare, took effect. Vern Michels was determined to find out. Rumors were circulating and Michels, a Greenwich Village based senior, wanted to confirm exactly how the new laws would affect him. He turned to Greenwich House’s Senior Center Computer Labs to seek the answer.
Greenwich House provides free computer labs for seniors in three of its senior centers, including a recently refurbished space at Our Lady of Pompeii. Each center offers a drop-in technology question and answer session at least once a week, while at Center on the Square, students from City as School High School volunteer daily to answer questions and troubleshoot any technology issues members might encounter.
Michels began researching the Affordable Care Act at Center on the Square, refreshing his computer skills along the way. Michels was an early computer developer in the 1950s, where he converted tubes and wires into printed circuits. He was familiar with the machines, but never owned one, claiming to now only need volunteer help on rare occasions.
“I had 24,000 unread emails,” Michels said, referring to how often he would typically log on to a computer. But the more comfortable he got through his healthcare research, the more he found himself back in the lab. Michels began relying on the internet for a growing share of his news and information on current events. He now feels that he is better able to follow the stories and issues he’s most interested in online.
Many seniors use the labs to stay connected with news, personal email, and through social media. A quick glance around the computer lab will reveal at least a few Facebook newsfeed scrolls. Signing up for the website and then uploading and printing photos of their family and friends are some of the most popular questions the tech volunteers from City as School receive.
Michels hasn’t adopted social media websites yet. His favorite new pastime though is Google Earth, especially its Street View feature. Michels enjoys virtually traversing different parts of the world. “I like seeing how other people live,” Michels said, adding as only a true New Yorker would, “especially their homes.”
Greenwich House’s three Senior Center Computer Labs are generally open Monday through Friday, 9:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Contact each center for specific details. A full list of centers and contact information can be found at greenwichhouse.org/seniors.