On Saturday, March 31, the New York State Legislature voted to continue funding the Senior Planet North Country program through April 2019, as part of the 2018-2019 state budget. This may not have been possible without the hundreds of messages of support that poured in from Senior Planet members and to the on-the-ground efforts of those who traveled to Albany to advocate for the program. Your voices have been heard.
We must also thank NYS Assemblyman Billy Jones (pictured above) for his unwavering support and successful efforts in securing funding for Senior Planet North Country.
In the days leading up to the budget vote, we called on the Senior Planet community to provide messages to include in our advocacy. We received close to 1,000 responses! Messages of support came not only from the North Country and surrounding counties, but from across the country and globally.
According to a report from the Housing Assistance Council, as many as one-quarter of all seniors live in small towns and rural areas. As society becomes more and more technologically sophisticated, these seniors are even more at risk for social isolation and difficulty connecting with others for information and access to social and other services to help them remain in their homes and lead fully engaged lives.
“Social isolation is a hidden crisis among rural seniors, and technology access and training are essential to keeping older adults engaged in our communities,” said OATS Executive Director Tom Kamber in a press release issued after the budget announcement. “We are deeply moved by the commitment of hundreds of Senior Planet activists who contacted legislators, attended briefings, rode buses to Albany, and helped make the case for funding. We also applaud the efforts of the Governor Cuomo’s Empire State Development (ESD) agency, which extended broadband service throughout the North Country this year, and Assemblymember Billy Jones and State Senator Betty Little, who provided extraordinary leadership for their constituents.”
Over the course of three years, OATS, at the request of the ESD, launched two new state-of-the-art technology centers in Plattsburg (learn more here), enrolling close to 900 older adults in training, partnered with local agencies, and developed a new, data-tested model for serving isolated older adults living in rural communities. Since then, 83 percent have reported a higher quality of life, and 77 percent reported feeling more confident living independently as a result of the program.
But don’t take our word for it. Here’s what you had to say:
“Senior Planet helps, and still helps me keep up to date, with the latest technology, so I can stay in contact with my five adult children, nine grandkids, and friends who have moved away. Communication technology keeps changing and there is no other organization in this upstate, rural area, that provides this service. I do hope that you continue to support Senior Planet North Country. They provide a really important service for all of us seniors in our rural area.”
—Gary Nutt, Senior Planet Member, Rouses Point, New York
“Computer and social media literacy are critically important to keeping rural seniors connected to loved ones, friends, and the greater community, in addition to keeping pace with current technology. OATS and Senior Planet must be supported with continued funding.”
—Sheila Schwartz, Senior Planet Member, Millerton, New York
“Technology changes so fast it is impossible for one to stay abreast. Senior Planet helps seniors understand the changing technology and how best to utilize them. This is very important to seniors as they can then communicate with others so they are not so isolated. It also gives me a feeling of accomplishment, to know something that children seem to be born with! If not for Senior Planet I wouldn’t be aware of all the possibilities of the Internet and how to utilize them. Please continue to support programs for rural seniors.”
—Claire Caron, West Chazy, New York
And Senior Planet members in New York City added their own powerful testimonials on the value of tech education and helped turn the tide as well:
“Senior Planet has given my retirement structure, purpose, community, important and valuable technology knowledge, and direct application of that knowledge. This knowledge is helpful in many ways, for example it has helped me to avoid scams! Please continue your funding of Senior Planet. What they provide is so very valuable to the senior citizen population.”
—Claude, New York, New York
“Senior Planet gives me the tools to participate intelligently and safely in our technological society. It is especially vital that rural seniors have the training they need to not only “stay in the loop” through email and social media, but also to use technology to make their everyday chores easier. We actually need more programs that specifically address the needs of seniors. Please refund this program.”
—Mary Blas, New York, New York
Perhaps one member from the New York City says it best, speaking for seniors everywhere:
“Senior Planet offers a variety of programs for seniors including technology classes that help us keep up with the times. It is important for seniors especially in rural areas where there may be no other resources for Internet and phone instructions as well as social connections. Do not take away this lifeline, but continue to support these programs for rural seniors.”
—Johanna Trescher, New York, New York
Together, your emails sent two very important messages to Albany. Firstly, that technology is playing a transformative role in the lives of older adults, especially those of us living in rural, often remote, areas of the country. Secondly, that together we have a loud voice, we are engaged, and we have influence.
Thank you to everyone to wrote in and contributed to our advocacy campaign. We look forward to continuing our North Country programming in the year ahead, helping rural seniors to get online and use the Internet, increase their social connectedness, improve their health outcomes, and maintain their independence.
For more information about the Senior Planet North Country program, read “Connecting Rural Older Americans with Technology: Lessons from Senior Planet.”