Herbie Taylor uses one of the 12 computers at the Los Angeles LGBT Center’s David Bohnett CyberCenter at least three times a week to check email and to print out song lyrics for his upcoming gigs.
“My WiFi is up and down at home,” Taylor explains as he takes a break in the courtyard of the Center’s Village at Ed Gould Plaza. “Sometimes I’m there two or three hours and sometimes I lose track and someone will say, ‘The Center is closing.’ I get very busy and time just goes by.”
It was 20 years ago that the David Bohnett Foundation opened the facility at the Center as part of an effort to provide LGBT communities with an online hub. The foundation has since opened more than 60 similar cyber centers across the U.S.
“It’s just a wonderful place to be, it’s so welcoming,” says Taylor (pictured, above). “I can’t imagine going anywhere else. I love doing my work here. The people are wonderful. I have my peers here, it’s very relaxing.”
Another regular, Mark Smith, feels the same way.
“I used to go every once in awhile and now I come all the time,” Smith says. “I’m kind of an entrepreneur and I do my business and I need a computer. It’s not like being at home where you are by yourself. There are other people around who I have met over the years. It’s better to be around people.”
Kiera Pollack, the Center’s director of senior services, points out that many seniors can’t afford to have WiFi at home, might need tech support, and enjoy the convenience and camaraderie.
“There are days when the computer center is completely full,” Pollack says. “People can pay their bills online, connect with family and friends online. Some are homeless and need to come to a place where they have access to technology and services.”
On most days, visitors will find Peter Finston sitting at one of the computers. The 83 year old describes himself as an unofficial volunteer who is “like the hall monitor.”
“I help people with the computers and, most importantly, I keep the printer going,” says Finston, a retired computer programmer and systems analyst.
“I have so many interests and I’m just so impressed with how much information you can get off the internet,” he adds. “It’s astounding.”
Pamela Atkinson, a volunteer at the CyberCenter, says some seniors like Finston are already proficient on a computer while others need help doing things like composing, editing and printing documents or more basic things like starting the computer and launching a web browser.
“During my shifts, seniors have used the internet to research housing, travel and legal resources,” Atkinson says. “They also read the news and research cultural events and entertainment opportunities.”
Atkinson and other volunteers help people overcome glitches in the technology and with such things as password recovery and account creation for the various sites they visit.
The Center also offers a class every month at The Village called Mom’s Computer Club for seniors learn how to sign up for email and how to check it. They also learn about social media and how to do online banking.
“If they have a smart phone with them or a tablet, we will help to teach them to use those devices or help them with any other have questions or glitches,” Pollack says. “People are usually super excited about having technical assistance available to them.”
The David Bohnett CyberCenter is open from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. on weekdays for seniors and from 6-10 p.m. for the general public. Saturday hours for the general public are 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. No food is allowed and noise must be kept to a minimum.