Hit a button and help someone, magic app where are you?!

My last trip to Las Vegas, NV was like all prior trips – crazy fun.  The city is 24/7 entertainment, the folks are fantastic and the surrounding landscape is absolutely beautiful desert.

I see Las Vegas as an unusual island-like place since the extreme heat of summer often isolates the city with everyone corralled safely under magnificent lighting and air conditioning from the dangerous desert conditions.

In such a close environment I expect there to be a greater unspoken pressure to care for one another but like all other communities, this sometimes isn’t possible even with the best of intentions and some people suffer due to a myriad of reasons.  The visual impact of someone in need, standing quietly in 115 degree desert heat, in the center of excitement and fun has quite an impact on my heart.

I haven’t found a mobile application or web site yet that seems to be as immediate and verifiable as something like the hire-a-driver-on-demand mobile application Uber in terms of “hit a button and get results now”, probably because complex solutions are often in order when it comes to people in need.  Even so, I will continue to seek out this magic button and if I do not find it then, as a computer programmer, maybe I will write one someday that has the potential to be an epic failure:)  Until then, wherever you are, help someone.  You will be glad you did.  If you are a freak introvert like me then here are a few ways to help others without having to actually torture folks with your weird self:)

  • That good book you just finished, leave it on a park bench with a note.
  • On holidays, leave colorful cards with money in them in areas like bus terminals, park benches, public restrooms, bike racks, etc.
  • Whatever city you are in, know where the rescue mission is so you can take them food, money or clothing (or order the items online and have them delivered). Many already post needed items on their web sites.  I will be placing an amazon.com order for this wonderful little place tonight: http://www.vegasrescue.org
  • Contact a church and ask for a shopping list for any church members they may have in need, get the items and leave it at the church, or order the items online and have them shipped directly to the church. Many churches will already have a list of needed items on their web site.

Technology and the Adult Homeless Population

I recently volunteered in a short computer education program for a small group of homeless people at a local shelter.  I was to teach users various introductory computer skills.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from the students.  Also, I’m a computer programmer, not a teacher, so I wasn’t sure how helpful I would be to them.  I also knew several of the users faced not only homelessness but also prior incarcerations and or mental illness.

I am posting the results of this program to not only raise awareness of the needs of the homeless but to also highlight some of the challenges I saw them struggling with in class and some of the wonderful surprises I noted during my classroom time with these men and women.

The protocol was men on one side of the room and women on the other; they ranged in ages from 30 years to 60 years of age.  There were about twelve students, two instructors and one monitor who stayed in another room close by.  The class was one hour in length once per week in a lab of computers with keyboard, mice and an overhead projector/computer for the instructor.  One instructor stayed at the projector to demonstrate various computer tasks and the other instructor moved about the room.

Initial student behavior was a heart breaker for me:  many of them would not make eye contact, they would speak softly – unsure of themselves and their words.  Normally this behavior is something I witness in children who are shy and are learning something new but to see this behavior in adults was very difficult.  Their behavior was a reminder to me of how hard things have been for them.  Thankfully this behavior improved as they learned new tasks.  By the end of the first class I was seeing smiles, excitement about learning and many questions were being asked.

Some of the topics we covered that the students showed great interest in:

  • Understanding the keyboard (how to make capital letters), the space bar functionality and the purpose of the number keypad.
  • Understanding the desktop.
  • Understanding search engines and navigating the web. Tips on identifying malicious sites and false news information.
  • The process of Opening, saving, closing, and creating new Microsoft Word documents.
  • How to password protect a Microsoft Word document. The students discussed lack of privacy openly at this point, really emphasizing a desire for privacy.
  • How to manage images (getting them from one device over to another, getting them from an application like Facebook down to a device, and emailing them to others).

Some of the problems they face in daily life regarding technology:

  • Several of the students mentioned difficulty in accessing email programs from public terminals.  They noted that not all of the libraries and public technology centers in town allow users to access the same email programs; some email programs are blocked at some locations and not blocked at other locations.  In turn they end up frustrated and are unable to access their email for long periods of time resulting in them often forgetting passwords and having to set up new email accounts and then they of course have lost their contact lists from their prior email account.
  • Lack of frequent access to devices and or computers for learning and general use.   When they do have access, they are often alone, without any technological assistance for times when they encounter issues such as not being able to access email.

Spending time with these men and women is something I will never forget, I hope I was able to help them as much as they helped me.

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