Iowa City Senior Center Zoom training becomes social hour for members

Although the weekly Zoom help class at the Iowa City Senior Center started as a method to support seniors navigating new technology, Student Intern Paisley Meegan said the class has become a bit of a social hour for regular attendees.


Kate Heston

Carol Throckmorton poses for a portrait in front of the Iowa City/Johnson County Senior Center on March 4, 2021.

Lily Rosen Marvin, News Reporter

Every Wednesday morning, University of Iowa senior Paisley Meegan turns on her computer, opens up Zoom, and waits for the familiar faces from the Iowa City Senior Center to filter in.

Since February, Meegan, a student intern at the Senior Center, has led the center’s Zoom Help Class, a course designed to help members at the Senior Center feel more comfortable and confident while using Zoom.

Meegan said she treats the class similar to office hours, allowing the seniors’ questions to guide her through each meeting. She talks members through everything from starting a Zoom and using the chat, to making breakout rooms and using Zoom’s security functions.

As the class has progressed, Meegan said the meetings have turned into a social hour for her and the regular handful of attendees.

“I feel like it was a pretty natural transition,” Meegan said. “I get the same few people who come back, and we will go over some stuff, but we also just visit. It’s a nice chance to get to talk to people who aren’t your usual bubble.”

Nationwide during the pandemic, seniors have felt more isolated than ever. In June, 56 percent of people in the U.S. over the age of 50 said they sometimes or often felt isolated, doubled from a similar poll that found 27 percent of people 50-plus felt isolated from others, according to University of Michigan polling. Prolonged loneliness can have a profound effect on health, Ailson Bryan, senior vice president of research for AARP said in a press release with the data, “as much as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.”

But using technology to communicate and doing outdoor activities translated to lower reported isolation, the survey found.

Phyliss Petchers, a regular Senior Center member of the class, has used her newfound Zoom skills to stay connected with friends and family all over the country.

“I have childhood friends, one in California and one in Maine, and now we can all sit around the table and talk [on Zoom]. The only rule is you’ve got to bring your own coffee,” Petchers said. “It really is a way to stay connected, especially if you’re a people person and I know I’m a people person.”

Petchers said the Zoom classes have helped her feel more comfortable, and Meegan’s patience has made the meetings a wonderful experience.

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“She’s very knowledgeable,” she said. “She’s a good teacher in that you can feel comfortable asking her a question. Even if you may have asked it a few minutes ago you know no question is stupid.”

Carol Throckmorton, another Senior Center member who regularly attends the Zoom Help Class, said it has been easy to feel connected in the class because of Meegan’s leadership.

“[Paisley’s] very receptive — very easy to talk to. And if she doesn’t know something, she tries to figure it out and get back to us. She’s very accommodating,” Throckmorton said. “She’s very welcoming and you know it’s going to be a comfortable conversation.”

As the weeks have progressed and the size of the class has remained small, Petchers said she has enjoyed getting to know Meegan and the other regulars.

“We did have a chance to socialize a little bit and that made it such a full experience. I actually look forward to it each time. I like Carol and I like Paisley. A couple of other people came in and out, but I never had a chance to build that connection, but those two were perfect,” Petchers said. “You really get to know each other. And I find the age difference just goes away. We may never have met [without the class] so this is really nice.”

Senior Center Program Specialist Michelle Buhman, who helped set up the program, said Meegan’s ability to connect with attendees has helped create a community with the Wednesday classes.

“She’s a natural communicator,” Buhman said. “I can’t really pinpoint it, but she just makes people feel welcome. I think she just has the perfect personality. And she’ll be a fantastic social worker when she graduates.”

Buhman said the senior center closed its doors in March 2020 but has since offered members a variety of online classes.

Knowing her internship at the center would have to be done virtually, Meegan said she was concerned she would feel disconnected from the members she was working with.

“I was kind of concerned that I just wasn’t going to get to know anyone. I was just going to be sitting alone at my computer not connecting,” Meegan said. “That has been so wrong, and I’m very thankful that it has been the opposite. Wednesday mornings, in particular, getting together with my usual gals, has been a really great experience.”