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Grossmont Center 'Tech Tank' helps bridge digital divide for San Diego seniors

La Mesa City Council members, company leaders from San Diego Oasis and Cox Communications all showed up Tuesday to cut a red ribbon to a new place where seniors can learn digital skills.

It was the grand opening of a place they are calling the Tech Tank. The purpose is to close the digital divide that stands in the way of elderly people who are unfamiliar with computers and smartphones.

Simona Valanciute is President and CEO of San Diego Oasis. She said the challenges faced by seniors became obvious during the COVID-19 pandemic when getting a vaccine appointment online could be a tremendous challenge.


But, she said, seniors are resilient.

“With proper support, they can adapt, be continually engaged and independent,” Valanciute said.

Tech Tank is a glass-enclosed room with homey furniture at the headquarters of San Diego Oasis at the Grossmont Center Mall. It was made possible by a donation from Cox Communications.

Thomas Fudge
La Mesa dignitaries and company leaders from San Diego Oasis and Cox Communications pose prior to cutting the ribbon for the Tech Tank at Grossmont Center Mall.

Nadine Bruders is a senior who has trained with San Diego Oasis and now volunteers for them. She says fear can be a factor when confronting the digital divide.


“I think most seniors are afraid they’re going to do something wrong. And with that, they won’t do it. But you have to be patient with them too because they don’t pick it up right away,” Bruders said.

One of those patient teachers at the Tech Tank is Raul Bernal-Gonzalez, who has a computer science degree and is bilingual. He said seniors aren’t alone in their challenges.

“Most of the problems they have are problems that everyone else has. Like how to save a picture to a phone. How to save an attachment from an email,” he said. “If I take a picture, how do I send it?”

He tells the story of one elderly woman who was very concerned about deleting pictures embedded in an email.

“And she was afraid to delete the message because she didn’t want to delete the pictures, and the pictures were ones her daughter was sending of her granddaughter,” he said.

Gonzalez said he also remembers a time he showed an older man how to use Google. The man was amazed that he could get answers to any questions. To him, crossing the digital divide may have been needed, but it was also a pleasure.