A special group of Holocaust survivors recently gathered at the Senior Planet Exploration Center in New York City’s Chelsea neighborhood to mark the end of a 25-week program that brought them together…and into the digital age.
The event celebrated their completion of “Our Voices,” a unique pilot program for Holocaust survivors, designed by Older Adults Technology Services (OATS). The survivors met for classes twice weekly for six months and received free iPads in the program. “Our Voices” was supported by a grant for advancing Person-Centered, Trauma-Informed (PCTI) services for Holocaust survivors administered by the Jewish Federations of North America’s (JFNA) Center for Advancing Holocaust Survivor Care (learn about them here).
The ‘graduates,” age 78 to 94, hailed from Brooklyn and the Upper West Side of Manhattan where OATS worked with Selfhelp Community Services and DOROT to pilot the program. By the end of the course on February 25th, attendees had mastered basic iPad skills, internet searches, email, YouTube, Facebook, and even the ride-sharing app Via, which some participants used to take donated rides to and from class. Many appreciated learning how to connect online to organizations with special significance to Holocaust survivors, such as United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, The Claims Conference, and The Kindertransport Association.
Erna Aldea compared the experience to learning a new language: “I started out knowing nothing, and now the iPad is so much fun. I can go on Google and YouTube and find anything!” “I made friends in the class, and the party was a great way to celebrate together,” said Edith Mindel.
The festivities began with a tour of the Senior Planet Exploration Center, where participants learned about the Center’s offerings and met staff and volunteers. After a reception, with refreshments generously donated by SOHO Platters, Tom Kamber, Executive Director of OATS, welcomed everyone and offered his congratulations on their achievements mastering iPad technologies such as creating digital stories using an app. Graduate Hadassa Carlebach shared her story, titled “Undocumented Baby,” which recounts her family’s history in the USSR in the 1920s and her early years; Ruth Gruener entertained the gathering with a lively accordion solo. At the end of the celebration, each participant received a graduation certificate.
The celebrants especially appreciated the efforts of the OATS trainers and the Senior Planet volunteers who assisted, and the admiration is mutual. Marcela Rodriguez, one of the Upper West Side class trainers, said, “I will forever cherish every participant, and my hope is that we stay in touch, whether by email, Facetime, or even Facebook.” “I learned a lot from the class,” added Kes Grekov, a trainer for the Brooklyn group. “The survivors’ commitment to learning and their varied interests are remarkable, and helping them on this journey was a humbling experience.”
Kimberly Brennsteiner, Director of Strategic Initiatives at OATS, drew on prior experience working with Holocaust survivors in the conception of this program. “I believe that the best way to preserve the voices of Holocaust survivors is to open up new avenues for sharing their own voices in ways that they want to at this stage in their lives. This was the genesis of the Our Voices program, and aligns with the goal of PCTI care. The Our Voices program helped the survivors learn new skills and address their unique needs while encouraging them to add their voices to conversations that are happening through digital channels. It also supported them when they chose to create projects to share their stories and preserve them for the future. Thank you to all the survivors who participated in this special program!”
“Congratulations to OATS and the Holocaust survivor graduates!” said Shelley Rood Wernick, Director of the JFNA Center for Advancing Holocaust Survivor Care. “In just one year, OATS developed PCTI curriculum and instruction to empower the survivors, teach a new skill, and capture their stories for generations to come. We look forward to seeing the OATS methodology impact even more people who are dealing with the effects of trauma and aging,” Wernick said.
This program was made possible by a grant from the JFNA Center for Advancing Holocaust Survivor Care. Approximately 58% of the two-year initiative, or $188,500, comes from federal sources. Approximately 42% or $136,500 comes from non-federal sources.