Wan He “Wanda” Liu is a whirlwind of energy, rushing around answering students’ questions. Saturday afternoons, she teaches digital literacy skills to seniors at the Excelsior Community Center at 4468 Mission Street.
The computer class, which meets from noon to 3pm on Saturdays, was Liu’s idea. During the week, she is the center’s employment services coordinator, helping residents find jobs. One of her requests for working at the Center was the opportunity to offer computer instruction.
“Seniors need to learn how to use the computer or at least the smart phone so they can communicate with their family and friends,” said Liu. “Most of these seniors live alone. Many of them have told me that after learning how to message and send email they’re better able to communicate with their children and grandchildren.”
Their children buy them these devices but, Liu explains, they “either do not have the time or the patience to teach them. That’s very upsetting to the seniors. They’re very happy that I am here to help them.”
Some of her students bring devices from home – iPads, iPods and iPhones – and ask for help with specific programs. Others want to learn how to use the Center’s computers. On a recent day, one woman installed a flash drive and her friends gather round to enjoy pictures of a family celebration. A few were learning WeChat so they could talk with families and friends in China.
Most of the instruction is in Mandarin, although several students are fluent in English. “I speak English, but it’s easier for me to learn when it’s in my own language,” said student Terry Fang.
It’s Never Too Late to Learn
Like her students, Liu began using a computer as an adult.
After receiving a degree in social work from San Francisco State University, Liu could not find a full time job using her new skills. When she heard that the computer lab at the Downtown Senior Center “needed a Chinese speaker who could explain things to their students,” she applied.
“It was difficult at the beginning,” Liu says of her early job experience. One day a student had a question about her iPod. Liu, who couldn’t afford an iPod at the time, was frustrated she couldn’t help. “But, walking near the Apple Store after work, and I suddenly thought maybe I could ask the Apple people for help.” She did, and soon was able to answer her student’s question.
The Apple Store wasn’t the only place Liu sought training. Microsoft stores also had answers. Soon she was attending all the workshops she could fit into her schedule. “Now I can answer almost every question. When I can’t, I tell the students I’ll look it up and they should come back the next time.”
When the digital literacy class at Excelsior Community Center began four months ago, Liu had more time to spend with each student. Now, with 12 beginners, she must rush from student to student. An hour into the session, Fang moans, “Wanda needs an assistant. I only learned one thing today.” Other students echo Fang’s plea, “an assistant, please.”
But, by the end of the session, and after more time with Liu, Fang admits she “learned two things today.”
That’s the kind of comment that encourages Liu. “I like challenges and I feel good about myself for being able to learn and helping others to learn.”
Additional Digital Literacy Classes
Liu provides the Saturday class at Excelsior Community Center through Community Living Campaign. It is part of the SF Connected program funded by the San Francisco Department of Aging & Adult Services. For computer classes in other neighborhoods, see the CLC Calendar. Community Technology Network, Self Help for the Elderly, Lighthouse for the Blind, and Conard House also offer computer training and classes through SF Connected. To see a calendar of all free classes, or for more information, visit www.sfconnected.org.