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Lifelong Laguna’s iPad Project connects isolated seniors with the community

Until recently, Laguna Beach resident Sarah Gerrard*, 70, hadn’t felt the need to own a smartphone or use a computer for anything other than the occasional email. 

Despite her husband’s need for constant care – Rick, 92, diagnosed with Alzheimer’s five years ago, and the survivor of four strokes, is very much home-bound – she was able to go for short walks with friends, do her errands, and, most importantly, attend the Alzheimer’s Caregiver Support Group at The Susi Q. 

Those outings were enough to keep her grounded and cheerful despite the demands of caring for a spouse with such debilitating physical and mental challenges. 

But all outings came to an end with the advent of COVID-19.

“The isolation has been hard,” Sarah says. “I’ve especially missed going to the support group. I’ve attended regularly for four years, in the past year on Wednesdays every week. It’s such a tight-knit group. We share our stories and give each other emotional support. It means everything to me.”

Happily now, thanks to an iPad provided to her by The Susi Q Senior Center, and a personal training session with John Fay, Director of Aging in Place Services, Sarah is able once again to participate in the meetings via Zoom video conferencing.

Lifelong Laguna John

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John Fay, Director of Laguna Beach Seniors’ Aging in Place Services, teaches new iPad users

“I felt such joy in reconnecting. It was magical to see everyone’s faces!” she says. “I’m so grateful. I didn’t have the right equipment – before, when they tried to explain how to connect on Zoom, I said, what? A camera? A microphone? Where are those on my husband’s old computer? And I didn’t have the right Wi-Fi connection either. But now I have the tools, though it wasn’t easy to understand everything at first. John was so patient, teaching me how to use the iPad.”

Putting the world at the fingertips of isolated seniors

Funded by a grant from the Assistance League, Laguna Beach Seniors’ iPad Project is initially providing 14 vulnerable seniors with the means to connect with others and take part in their choice of the many clubs, activities, and support groups that The Susi Q is now offering virtually. 

“Our executive director, Nadia Babayi, attends a weekly meeting with the City Manager and other key community organizations. During one of the meetings, she learned there are low-income seniors who feel disconnected to the outside world because they don’t have smart devices,” John explains. “That sparked the idea to buy and loan out iPads on a long-term basis.

“In the past months, Laguna Beach Seniors at The Susi Q has delivered groceries and helped modify homes to ensure a safe environment – but it’s the lack of opportunities for socialization that are most troubling for many. This is at least part of the solution.”

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Proudly displaying a new way to connect to programs, activities, and friends

Director of Care Management Martha Hernandez did some outreach to identify seniors who would most benefit from the program. 

“Quite a few seniors do have smartphones – but it’s challenging to access Zoom classes on such a small screen, especially for those who have vision or hearing difficulties,” Martha notes.

John admits there’s sometimes a steep learning curve.

“An iPad can be intimidating to someone who has never used one before. So when I’m teaching seniors, I make sure that I put myself in their shoes, I imagine I have never seen one before. I take them through the basic steps, at their own pace, showing them how to sign on, create a password, and connect.”

Isolation and boredom are great motivators

In some cases, seniors do not even have access to Wi-Fi – or the connection isn’t fast enough to download much of anything – and that’s another aspect that Lifelong Laguna is working on.

“We don’t want the iPad to become a financial burden in any way,” John says. “So in some instances, we’re also helping to pay for a decent Wi-Fi connection. 

“The good news is that seniors are very resilient, and most seem to be coping okay. There’s naturally some resistance to the technology, but isolation and boredom are great motivators to learn new ways of connecting.” 

While LBS received initial funding from ALLB to purchase the first allotment of iPads, they’re hoping to hear from anyone or any company that might be interested in donating additional funds to expand the program.

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Hugging technology tight!

John notes that The Susi Q was very quick to adapt to the shelter-at-home situation. “Within just a couple of weeks, we were offering video conferencing for a number of programs. Now we have more than 30 activities, classes, and support groups online, and another 16 will be added by the end of September.”

The most popular programs include Jeffrey Briar’s musical appreciation classes, TED Talks, Men’s social group, Women Supporting Women, It’s Your Money, and exercise classes, including Standing Yoga, as well as wellness programs. Bingo will be coming soon.

“We believe offering these programs is vital to the health, happiness, and safety of our senior community in Laguna Beach,” John says. “Not to mention that we now have participants from other countries, including Australia and Canada!”

Sarah’s first experience with an iPad was memorable

Sarah reiterates how pleased she is to be part of the iPad project. She laughs when recounting her first experience with Zoom video conferencing. 

“John sat with me outside the Susi Q Center in the sunlight, with masks on, to help me connect using their Wi-Fi,” she says. “I spoke for a while, then I realized they weren’t hearing me! I had been muted because the wind blowing in the umbrella was causing a whooshing sound! So then they saw I was talking and unmuted me and I could hear them and they could hear me.

“It was so exciting to see everyone and to talk to them.”

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A senior’s new favorite device

Sarah’s not sure how much she’ll be using her iPad other than to connect with her group, because she is so busy taking care of Rick. But being able to attend her Alzheimer’s Caregiver Support Group is very important to her. She’ll grab the time whenever she can.

“I put Rick in the electric recliner and he will snooze for a while,” she says. “It’s so much more comfortable than sitting in his wheelchair. Laguna Beach Seniors donated that chair. I am so grateful to them. Martha and John keep in touch with me, and make sure I have what I need to take care of myself, too.” 

And John feels quite well, jolly about the program. “When I hand over the iPads, seniors tell me it’s like Christmas in July – and I feel like Santa Claus. It’s great!”

For more information, or if you know seniors who would benefit from the program, visit or contact John at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or (949) 715-8107.

*Not her real name, for reasons of privacy


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