Prairie Five offers tablet lending library to help after pandemic

Jessica Stölen-Jacobson
Montevideo American-News

Shortly after the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Prairie Five recognized the need to find a way to make contact more available for older community members who were suffering from a loss of face-to-face contact. “We saw how many activities moved online - church services, medical appointments, presentations, and more and wanted to be sure that the older adults in our five-county service area would be able to stay connected with these opportunities, as well as with family and friends,” says Laura Thomas, Prairie Five Community Action Council’s Director of Aging Well.

Thus, Prairie Five, which services community members in Big Stone, Chippewa, Lac qui Parle, Swift, and Yellow Medicine counties, created a tablet lending library program. The program includes a number of tablets embedded with internet for long-term check-out. The tablets can be checked out for up to a month at a time, with some also available at each outreach office for shorter-term check-outs (up to three days). To make use easier, each tablet borrowed includes a User Guide that provides a step-by-step explanation of the basic functions of the device. “We found that many older adults already own a tablet, laptop or smartphone but have questions or feel stuck using it. The Program Director is happy to meet one-to-one with any older resident to help make their experience using technology a pleasant one,” says Thomas.

There are a variety of things the tablets have been used for so far. Thomas says, “When so many things moved online in response to the pandemic, it was really a silver lining for people in rural areas and on the prairie. Now instead of having to drive to the metro area for a jazz concert, a person can simply log on to watch the concert live from the comfort of their own home. When the weather is nasty, it’s nice to be able to attend church from the safety of a living room and not have to worry about the roads. The online world brings so many opportunities right to our fingertips and the Aging Well program would like every older adult who is interested to be able to connect to them.” 

Thomas also hopes that people are not intimidated by technology. “The program has been used by many people in their 80s and 90s and many commented that, ‘If I can get the hang of this, anyone can!’ and they did! It’s not too late, you’re not too old, and it’s worth giving a tablet a try. I live alone and enjoy playing a game or two of Outspell (a word game similar to Scrabble) on the AARP website each evening. It’s nice to be able to look up a recipe quickly from my favorite cooking site when I am trying to decide what to do with the ingredients in my fridge. And I love being able to video chat with my friends around the country with a couple taps on the screen! Let’s get together and get you on the road to enjoying a tablet, too.”

The tablets were purchased through the Aging Well Programs funds from a grant from the Southwest Initiative Foundation and Minnesota River Area Agency on Aging. The tablets are available to any adult aged 60 and over who resides in Prairie Five’s service area. Interested persons can contact Program Director Laura Thomas at 320-226-8861. Thomas will meet with those interested to go through tablet orientation, answer any questions, and complete the checkout paperwork. “At Prairie Five, we believe that every older adult who we serve should have access to up-to-date technology if they wish to. Having access to technology means not only the device itself but also the comfort level and knowledge to use it with ease,” Thomas says.

There’s no cost to participate in the program. Additionally, Thomas says, “if you have your own device, but have questions or would like to expand your user knowledge with that device, give me a call to set up an appointment. An appointment typically lasts one hour and it usually takes three to four meetings for a person to feel comfortable using the device as they would like to.”