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Flushing seniors use webcam to socialize

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Six homebound city seniors have begun to use innovative video-conferencing technologies to connect with the world beyond their windows, thanks to a program being offered through a public-private partnership between a Flushing senior center, Microsoft and the city Department for the Aging.

Microsoft provided each senior with a desktop computer, large monitor, webcam, software and other items needed to take part in the program, based at the Benjamin Rosenthal Senior Center, which the software company equipped to offer interactive broadcasts of its activities.´╗┐

Adele Lerner´╗┐, a 103-year-old program participant, is now able to interact with senior center residents, participate in the center’s activities, and watch streaming video of synagogue services on her new computer as a result of the initiative, nicknamed the virtual senior center.

“When I first got my computer, I wanted to throw it out the window, but my daughter was in California and with the computer she could say hello to me every day,” Lerner said. “I have many more friends now than I ever did before. It has made me better, more open. Before, I was a closed person in my room with my secrets.”

The senior center invited the six initial participants in the program, only two of whom could make it, to demonstrate the technology last week and its potential was on view for attendees, as were the smiles that crept on participants’ faces.

The center’s offerings, such as tai chi, crafts classes, book discussions and entertainment functions are no longer limited to its rooms at 45-25 Kissena Blvd. since the technology provides a two-way conduit to its activities room.

“They can use the technology to stay at home and log on in the morning through video conferencing to participate in whatever is going on at the senior center,” said Jeanette Reed, a spokeswoman for the Department for the Aging. “It’s really neat and it goes a long way toward helping seniors to interact with people and be less isolated.”

Microsoft will be doubling the program’s scope in coming weeks, providing funds for six more people to use the service.

“Many seniors — especially homebound seniors — are being left behind because they don’t have access to technology or an opportunity to learn the necessary skills,” Bonnie Kearney, a marketing director for Microsoft, said in a statement. “With the virtual senior center, this innovative public-private partnership is demonstrating a model that other cities can use to help homebound seniors stay connected and keep contributing to their communities.”

Reach reporter Connor Adams Sheets by e-mail at csheets@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4538.

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