By Starrla Cray
DELANO, MN Delano residents Erika Kluge Frake and Greg Elstad have an innovative plan for helping senior citizens stay connected with their loved ones, but they can’t do it alone.
They’re hoping to be one of 10 groups to win a $50,000 grant given through the Pepsi Refresh Project.
With that money, they could purchase computers and other devices for Delano area senior centers and nursing homes, create an educational website with helpful “how to” videos, provide one-on-one training for video chatting, and more.
They are one of 1,000 entries for the contest ending Jan. 31.
Each month, people vote for their favorite idea and 10 groups are awarded grants in four monetary categories, from $5,000 to $250,000. As of Wednesday afternoon, Frake and Elstad’s idea was ranked 217th.
“We need a lot more votes,” Frake said. “Please continue to spread the word to friends and relatives.”
Anyone with an e-mail address can vote one time per day.
“We need people to vote every day. This grant is a popularity vote, at this point,” Frake said. “We’re really hoping people will see that this has potential to reach way beyond Delano.”
Getting to be one of the 1,000 accepted submissions wasn’t easy, according to Frake.
“I think we tried for three months,” she said. Applications are accepted online at midnight the first of each month, and it’s a race to be one of the first 1,000 people to submit.
Close to home
Frake first heard about the Pepsi Refresh grant opportunity on a TV news program.
After talking to Elstad (a family friend), Frake realized that they both had similar goals in sharing technology with the elderly population.
“Greg and I have both experienced the loss of loved family members with terminal illnesses and have family who are not proficient in the use of technology for communication,” Frake noted. “We witnessed the power of technology bringing family together when distance, finances, health, and work kept them away.”
They developed a plan for how the grant money would be utilized, including $15,000 for equipment, $15,000 for web training platforms, and $20,000 for mentorship and training.
Technology such as computers and iPod touches would be given to the Delano Senior Center and nursing homes in the community.
That way, people who don’t have access to a computer or the ability to travel to a public location could still connect with loved ones.
When Frake’s mother, Joan Kluge of Ames, IA, was ill, family members who couldn’t always be by her side kept in touch through video chatting.
“In a way, you’re in the room with them,” Frake said.
Frake’s dad, John, uses Skype to play checkers with Frake’s children, Ally, Annabel, and Ella.
“This technology allows my dad to have a close relationship with all of his grandkids,” Frake said. “One would prefer to be in person to give that hug, but being able to make eye contact and share a smile is pretty powerful.”
Many elderly people aren’t familiar with technology, which can make communication more difficult with those who live great distances away.
“People aren’t writing letters anymore; they’re not sending photos through the mail,” Frake said. “Typically, people ages 70-plus may have used a computer, but they really don’t know any of the social networking. It is very frustrating to them, and they feel neglected and forgotten about.”
If awarded the grant, Frake and Elstad plan to create an easy-to-use website that can teach people how to utilize online resources, such as Skype, email, and free Google products.
They also plant to train a key group of volunteers including Delano youth who can then go out in the community and spread their knowledge to others.
“Our dream is to make it easier for you and everyone to connect through technology to be there for all that life offers,” Frake noted.
If they don’t get enough votes, however, the idea most likely won’t get off the ground.
“Unless we can find other funding sources, that would unfortunately be the end of it,” Frake said.
To vote or learn more about the contest, go to www.refresheverything.com/thinkingenerations.