PORT ORANGE --If anyone had told Lois Chappelle she'd be spending her golden years navigating the information highway and finding ways to get other seniors to come along for the ride, the retired elementary school principal probably would have just laughed.
But since getting connected, as a way to keep herself stimulated and involved after suffering a stroke a few years ago, Chappelle has become a force with which to be reckoned.
"When I dream, I dream big," she said in a recent interview in her Port Orange home where she's transformed her television screen into a window on the World Wide Web that allows her to surf the Internet and send and receive e-mail.
Her big dream is to give every senior in every assisted living facility and communal residence for the elderly in Florida the opportunity to be as connected as she is on her WEBTV Internet appliance. And she's currently in the process of making it come true.
A program Chappelle developed is set to begin next month at Epiphany Manor in Port Orange, thanks to support she has garnered from the Port Orange/South Daytona Rotary Club, which is funding the effort, and area Pilot clubs, which are providing volunteers. Pilot International also has expressed interest. "She's amazing," said David Lansdale, a former gerontology researcher at Stanford University and founder of the Linking Ages program in Palo Alto, Calif., who has been working closely with Chappelle on her project. The Port Orange senior -- who'd rather not give her age except to say "I won't see 75 again, but I'm not old enough yet that I'm bragging about it" -- contacted the California researcher after she read an Associated Press article about him in The News-Journal in November 1999. In the story, Lansdale described the Internet and e-mail as "an elixir" for the elderly -- especially those living in nursing homes and other communal settings.
Although she lives quite independently, Lansdale's research hit home for Chappelle, who knew, firsthand, that he was right on target.
So she e-mailed him, saying she wanted to be part of the effort to help others. And he e-mailed her back, encouraging her to launch a program here. They've been in constant contact ever since, and even made presentations together at a Florida District Pilot Club workshop in Sarasota last October, and at a Gerontology Society of America conference in Washington, D.C., in November.
Introducing the Internet and e-mail to the elderly is a "means to a much greater end," said Lansdale in a recent telephone interview. It's a way to help them overcome feelings of loneliness, boredom, helplessness and the decline of mental skills.
Chappelle, of course, couldn't agree more, which is why she's become coordinator and "coach" of the volunteer program she calls "Touching Lives."
After suffering a massive stroke complicated by herpes encephalitis in 1997, Chappelle, who is a widow, decided that the time she had to spend rehabilitating at home would be the perfect opportunity to learn a new skill. So she ordered a Web-TV (a device that connects to an existing television set and provides access to the Internet more simply than through a computer), got a friend to hook it up, and taught herself how to use it.
"I just had more fun than you can imagine," said Chappelle, who was principal at Port Orange Elementary School before retiring in 1987.
Before long she was e-mailing friends and relatives, exchanging recipes over the Internet, delving into subjects that interested her, and even shopping for things she needed via her device.
Though some have suggested she replace her Internet appliance with a full-fledged computer, Chappelle said it suits her needs just fine.
"It's not as intimidating (as a computer) for the population we're talking about," she added. Chappelle, who walks with a cane but is otherwise quite mobile now, has been training volunteers for the program, which is modeled, in many ways, after Lansdale's program in California.
The Internet device, purchased by the Rotary Club (which also will be providing funding for a dedicated telephone line, the monthly service and other startup costs) will be in a central area at Epiphany Manor, a nonprofit facility, where seniors will use it in groups with the help of volunteers.
The idea is for the residents to share the e-mails they send and receive, and learn about the Internet together.
Chappelle also is aiming to get school-age youngsters involved in the project, and to expand it to other nonprofit facilities for the elderly as soon as possible.
"It can open doors for people who are tucked away," said Lansdale, improving their quality of life and helping them to become more "interconnected."
And here is the lady that got the ball rolling!!Lois.....center......you can not begin to imagine the energy this woman can instill in a person. Listening to others that have known her for many years or just a few months, you begin to understand, when Lois asks, it is done!!! Working with her is going to be an experience I will never regret!!
We all have different names for this project. David says, "Linking Ages" Lois says, "Touching Lives". I prefer what these people have done for me, "Touching My Life"!!
After a few conversations with Lois and meeting David while he was here in Port Orange, the training at the Epiphany Center started.
This was the very first time that I had volunteered to do anything like this. Nervous? Honestly, yes...UNTIL...my first meeting with the "students"!!
What a great bunch they are!! Fun...full of life...young at heart...and they can teach us all so very much!!
A few days ago, David sent me an email he received shortly after the training began from KEN. I have permission to share this with all of you...
Here's the email from Kenny, Di, which I received while I was in Maine. It's dynamite! David
-----Original Message----- From: Epiphany Manor [mailto:email@example.com] Sent: Sunday, June 10, 2001 6:09 AM To: David Lansdale
Subject: RE:KEN WILLIAMS
THIS IS EARLY SUNDAY MORNING (ABOUT 7:30 AM ) SO IT MIGHT BE A GOOD TIME TO WRITE AND THANK YOU FOR THIS NEW LIFE.I WAS WITH LADY DI ON THE BUDDY LINE YESTERDAY AND I TOLD HER THAT I HOPE THE OTHER PEOPLE TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THIS PROGRAM AND REALIZE THAT THIS IS A GIANT STEP FOR ALL OF US IN COMMUNICATING AND ENTERTAINMENT. I AM THE MOST ON LINE HERE. LADY DI IS HELPING ME GET A BOARD OF MY OWN. I DON'T KNOW HOW MANY EMAIL MESSAGES I HAVE SENT, BUT WHO KEEPS COUNT. I TOLD DIANE THE OTHER DAY THAT I PREDICT THAT IN TEN YEARS THERE WILL BE A TEN STEP PROGRAM FOR US EMAIL ADDICTS.THANK YOU AGAIN AND WITH YOUR BLESSINGS I WILL KEEP IN TOUCH. KENNY WILLIAMS