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Computer Tutor

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An 80-year-old woman has digitized her lifetime collection of photographs. She burned the photos to CDs and mailed them to family members across the country.

"This woman's life is enriched thanks to the skills her volunteer has taught her," says Paulo Eusebio. He is the regional manager for a program that works to provide Internet access to community centers and libraries.

Volunteers help people live more connected lives by teaching them computer skills. Typically, tutors volunteer one or two hours per week. However, their time varies, depending on the situation.

Tutors may specialize in different areas. For instance, some may teach seniors how to use e-mail. Others may guide young children in using the Internet.

Volunteers who help young kids with reading skills are in demand, says Maria Pullen. She is the volunteer coordinator with a public library. Her teenage volunteers help young students use the Internet.

"About 50 percent of the volunteers come back, year after year," says Pullen. "They really enjoy working on the computer with the young kids."

Obviously, volunteer computer tutors must have basic computer skills. They must also be familiar with keyboarding, e-mail, web surfing and software programs like Microsoft Word and Excel. Sometimes they need more advanced skills, such as the ability to digitize images and make web pages.

Some agencies provide a few hours of training to volunteers. "We show our volunteers how to get around the websites they will be using. We show them how to fill out the forms that we use," says Pullen.

Tutors must be patient and reliable. They also need good communication skills.

"Our volunteers don't need previous experience," says Chad Leaman. He organizes a program that has volunteers teaching computer skills to people with disabilities. "They just need the desire to learn new skills and to work through things with people."

David Courtenay spends an hour a week teaching seniors to use the Internet and send e-mail. Many seniors want to learn e-mail so they can communicate with relatives.

"I feel like I have a sense of partnership with people," Courtenay says. "It's fun to be around people a lot."

Computer tutors need to be able to adapt to new learning styles, says Courtenay. That's because different people learn in different ways. "If the person doesn't get it right away, be patient," he says. "Don't get upset because they don't know as much as you know."

Kristine is a volunteer computer tutor at her local library. Recently she won an award for her volunteer work. The library assigns her a computer "buddy" and gives her a list of websites to use. "You help them out with their homework," she says. "Sometimes you show them special things to do on the computer."

She says it's fun to see how much the kids enjoy learning. But the organizational aspect can be stressful. Sometimes the buddies don't show up on time. And sometimes there are more volunteers than there are kids needing a partner.

Kristine thinks it would be great if volunteering landed her a job, but that's not why she does it. She finds it rewarding and fulfilling to help others. Often, kids who have been her buddies in the past run up to her to talk. "You obviously made a difference, and they remember who you are," she says.

John is a computer buddy at the same library. He teaches younger children how to use computers and the Internet. The lessons include using Excel and PowerPoint and doing web searches.

"Every day, there is some key point that you teach," he says. "You get the objectives for the day, and then you wing it."

You don't have to be a computer genius. You just need to be enthusiastic, with a desire to help. "You just have to be an average, daily kind of Internet user," says John.

Tutors make sure that their students try everything themselves. The students don't just sit there and watch. "They won't learn if you do everything for them," says John.

In the beginning, John volunteered because he wanted a job. Now, he plans to continue volunteering even if he does land a job. "Volunteering goes on your record and your resume," he says. "But it's also rewarding because you get to help people."

How to Get Involved

Find out if your school has a volunteer program. You may be able to start out as a volunteer computer tutor at your own school.

Contact libraries and seniors' centers directly to see if they can use your cyber smarts.


Find volunteer opportunities in your area
Search for various volunteer opportunities near you

Microsoft How-To
Find lesson plans and how-to articles on Microsoft products

Computer Tutor How-To Tips
Read tips on backing up computer files, using Outlook and more

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