Fort Worth, TX —”Two and a half years ago, most senior citizens here had never touched a computer. They were totally opposed to bringing ‘those machines’ or a Neighborhood Networks center here,” recalls Ja’net Huling, manager of Vega Place Senior Apartments in Fort Worth, Texas. “It took me over a year to convince residents that computers could bring them lots of benefits—like Internet access to less costly prescriptions. Not only have residents overcome reluctance about using computers, they are really enthusiastic about all the possibilities that computers and the Internet open up to them.”
How did Huling change attitudes? “At our monthly resident meetings, I would bring up a computer-related topic, like using the Internet to find better deals on prescriptions.” Once people understood this, they realized that it would be worth learning some basic computer skills to be able to explore different Web sites. Gradually, she won converts and 100 percent of the residents supported opening a Neighborhood Networks Center at Vega Place. “Residents really like living here, and the center has made life even better.”
One of Huling’s first activities at the center was helping eligible residents complete online applications for food stamps. “Mistakenly thinking the subsidy was only $10 per month, many seniors had not bothered to enroll.” She not only gave everyone more accurate information about this Federal program but also has helped 50 residents sign up for food stamps. Although the center will not have Internet access until next month, Huling used her own computer and Internet provider for this initiative.
Working with Tresa Echols, resident association president, Huling continues forming community partnerships to provide direct services at the center. Mondays through Saturdays, volunteers from Southwood Baptist Church are teaching residents to use computers. The Fort Worth Health- Department conducts a Chronic Illness Management call that teaches residents how to manage their ailments and understand their necessary medications. Residents started a walking club as a result of this class. Another partnership is in the works with an organization that provides doctors who make house calls.
When California Commercial Investment Company bought Vega Place Senior Apartments in May 2000; the apartment complex was failing in most major categories of HUD’s Real Estate Assessment Center’s (REAC’s) property inspection process. However, the new owner had a brighter vision for the apartments and invested a significant amount of capital in upgrades, including the Vega Place Center. It includes a comfortable and beautifully decorated community room and a computer center equipped with four stand-alone computers, two laptops, a printer, a scanner, and a digital camera, most of which were donated by HUD’s Fort Worth office. Moreover, it has a clothes-care center and a clubroom, which the Vega Place Food Bank transforms into a grocery store the first and third Tuesday of each month. The Tarrant County Area Food Bank, Kroger Food Stores and other groups donate the food, so residents shop for free.
During the Vega Center’s grand opening celebration on August 16th, the Fort Worth HUD Office received recognition for its leadership and assistance in helping this Neighborhood Networks center become a reality. Fort Worth’s Multifamily HUB Director E. Ross Burton and Louis Ybarra, supervisory operations officer, spoke on behalf of the Department. In addition, Virgle M. Anderson, HUD Multifamily project manager, and Vernon Butler Jr., its Multifamily Neighborhood Networks program officer were also recognized. Special recognition was given to the Austin Affordable Housing Corporation, the Vega Place management team and Ray McCoy, who directs Southwest Baptist Church’s senior ministry.