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A learning experience

 (The Spokesman-Review)
(The Spokesman-Review)

Jo Chadwick has stories to tell.

The retired South Hill woman finds writing therapeutic and spends a portion of the day at her bedroom computer, smiling at the memories that pour forth as she types up her family history.

She’s written so much the documents are stacking up, and she’s unsure how to organize them. She’s also not certain what keystrokes to use when editing. And having two documents open on the computer screen at once is somewhat confusing.

That’s where Linda Walston comes in.

Walston gives people computer lessons in their homes. She also makes repairs, builds computers, and troubleshoots problems through her company, Happy Computer Users. In the two years since she started her business, she’s had about 400 clients. She charges $40 an hour, but offers senior citizens a 50 percent discount.

Chadwick found Walston’s name and number through the Rockwood retirement community activities coordinator after Walston was asked to teach a computer class there. Chadwick said she knew how to “center a title” and type up her stories, but not much else.

“I thought I’d better have her attention for a little while until I get out of the woods,” Chadwick said Wednesday, after her second lesson with Walston. “I have a lot of stories to tell.”

Teaching people to use their computers comprises about 70 percent of Walston’s business, and about 95 percent of her students are seniors. After being laid off from a computer technician job two years ago, Walston looked for work in her field but found it dominated by 20-somethings.

She was 50. So she decided to start her own business instead. She set up some computer classes at local senior centers but found what her students really wanted was private instruction in their own homes.

“That pretty much got me started, and now it’s word of mouth,” Walston said.

Most of Walston’s students want help using the Internet or e-mail. One woman was delighted to learn how to open the short video attachments her children sent of her grandchildren in Montana. Walston taught another woman how to download photographs from her digital camera. The woman had a plastic baggie full of digital camera memory cards, all full, with dozens of photographs. When the woman couldn’t download the photos, she just kept buying new cards.

“They’re a little afraid,” Walston said of her clients. “I can quell their fears.”

Walston has been working with computers since she landed her first data entry job, at age 17. She went on to work on computer systems at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., but the gang violence in California pushed her to seek a better place to raise her family, she said. She was working for Software Spectrum in Liberty Lake, she said, when massive layoffs occurred two years ago.

Walston also has been teaching computer classes to seniors through the Community Colleges of Spokane’s Seniors Program. The program offers dozens of classes in topics including art, history and exercise at 23 different locations around Spokane. Pat Freeman, who manages the Seniors Program, said she hired Walston to teach after learning of the classes she was teaching at a local senior center.

“I think she wants to make sure seniors succeed in what they’re doing,” Freeman said. “Seniors are interested in doing all kinds of things on the computer.”