Neighborhood Seniors ‘Van Gogh’ to Google HQ

On Nov. 13, Cayuga Connectors Coordinator Patti Spaniak and 13 seniors boarded a San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency Van Gogh van to Google’s office on Spear Street.

Over half the seniors had taken free computer classes at Spaniak’s house. The others were more experienced users. The Google trip celebrated the students’ hard work.

Since studying with Spaniak, Anna Potamousi now uses Facebook to communicate with her relatives in Greece. Carmelita Lozano, a retired nurse, is learning to Skype with her family in the Philippines.

Spaniak developed the computer classes to help seniors with no or very limited skills so they can stay in touch with relatives, reconnect with old friends and conduct simple web searches.

“The libraries, City College and other groups also offer free computer classes,” Spaniak said. “The difference is my classes are for seniors who do not own a computer and have never turned one on. They’re very basic. Everyone in the room is on the same level. They’re at my house, right in the neighborhood.”

Most of the students didn’t know what Google was before taking the class. They didn’t know it had employees. They thought it was just online.

“We talked about Google and its position in the international business arena,” Spaniak said. “How amazing it was that in 1998, when many in our group had already retired—just miles away, everything was changing.”

The trip to Google was an eye opener.   While the Connectors were silent when they first entered the Google reception area, their silence turned to exclamations of surprise as the tour leader described the work conditions: no desks or cubicles, no set work space, flexible hours, no dress code, kitchens no further than 150 feet from any workplace, a wellness center, daycare, gyms, dry cleaning and laundry services and the opportunity to work on projects of the employee’s own choosing.

“Keep it down, this is a workplace,” the young woman leading the tour kept reminding the Connectors, as members could not restrain themselves from contrasting working conditions at Google with their own experience in the workplace.­

For more information, call Patti Spaniak at (646) 409-7775.

This article first appeared in The Light’s February 2016 print edition.

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