Optimal Help: Classes show seniors how to navigate technology

By Laura Latzko

Val Carioggia was desperate to learn about cellphones, apps and computers so she could text and video chat with her nephew, who attends the Juilliard School in New York City.

She decided to take the technology class at the Optum Community Center in Deer Valley. The nationwide health network teaches the course at community centers around the Valley and in Tucson.

“I can actually see him, and he can see me,” Carioggia says.

“We only see each other maybe once a year now. So, that’s been really nice.”

Free to anyone 55 and older, the class gives tips on online shopping, video calls, streaming services and social media, for example.

“One thing I’ve heard from members is that it provides a peace of mind, by instilling independence,” says Bianca Vigil, an instructor at the Deer Valley Community Center.

“A lot of these members will ask family members, their kids, their friends how to do something. Sometimes, it’s a little bit tough to ask (for help). With these classes, we are able to instill that independence in them, for them to be able to do it and navigate it on their own.”

Carioggia says her classmates were excited to learn about their phones.

“Some of them didn’t know how to answer their phones,” she says. “They didn’t know how to call or get their email.”

Vigil is one of four teachers who lead the technology classes at the Central Phoenix, Goodyear, Deer Valley and Tucson community centers.

“Technology is so progressive,” Vigil says. “They have made it to where a lot of things on the cellphones you can do on the computers as well and tablets. It’s been nice to teach all of those different parts of it.”

Students can work on projects like creating recipes using Google Docs. That schools students in templates, fonts and images.

The class has a twofold effect. As technology develops, the teachers must stay up on their knowledge and they impart that on students.

“If it’s something that they want to learn about and I don’t know, I definitely take time with the other instructors to learn about it prior to teaching it,” Vigil says.

“We do step-by-step tutorials on how to get through a system. That way they know how to navigate it on their own.”

Students brainstormed earlier in the year to suggest class topics. Vigil says social media has especially been important to her students this year, along with video-based social media and neighborhood apps.

“That was a big thing during COVID-19,” Vigil says.

“We couldn’t see our friends and family. There was a lot of social isolation. So, to be able to use social networking is definitely a perk.”

As for Vigil, she wanted to share online grocery shopping sites and apps.

“All of the things that I’m using on a normal basis, I want to share with them, like online grocery shopping. Those were great things during COVID,” Vigil says.

“There was a time when they couldn’t go to the grocery store. Being able to have it delivered to your door is a little bit safer for some of our members who can’t do that. Or being able to order a meal.”

Online security and safety are included in the class that covers scammers who call or email. Occasionally, classes are split up between Apple and Android users.

Carioggia took the technology class a few years ago and returned this year. She mainly uses her cellphone for texting, taking and sending photos, online banking, social media, email and browsing the Internet.

Vigil stays before and after class to provide extra help. Carioggia took advantage of that.

“One time something happened with my phone,” Carioggia says.

“It had never happened before. I was able to ask Bianca what was going on, and she was able to take care of it in about 2 minutes.”

These community centers have living rooms where students can work on projects or practice on their devices. They also have access to the centers’ computers.

Along with the technology classes, the community centers offer tai chi, brain activities, art, origami, Pilates, healthy minds, Medicare 101, stress management, fitness, beading, zumba, conversational Spanish, nutrition, line dancing and chair yoga classes. Seniors also have access to the community centers’ fitness equipment as well as special events, such as afternoon movies.

Carioggia has been taking classes like tai chi, Spanish, active stretch and BrainSavers at the Deer Valley Community Center for six years.

She says that at the center, she found peers with similar interests.

“I’ve made a lot of new friends at the center, and we do things outside of the center also,” Carioggia says.

Limited to 15 people, the technology classes are offered once a week at the four technology centers. Reservations are required.   


Optum Community Center-Central Phoenix

1125 E. Glendale Avenue, Glendale


Classes are 11 a.m. to noon Fridays

Optum Community Center-Goodyear

1981 N. Pebble Creek Parkway,

Suite 8, Goodyear


Classes are 1 to 2:30 p.m. Fridays

Optum Community Center-Deer Valley

20414 N. 27th Avenue, Suite 100, Phoenix


Classes are 11:45 a.m. to 1 p.m. Thursdays

Optum Community Center-Tucson

4780 E. Grant Road, Tucson


Classes are 2:30 to 3:30 p.m. Mondays