SUN CITY CENTER — One of the first things you can’t help but notice as you approach the Atrium Building at the Sun City Center Community Association Complex is the similarity to the campus at any local high school or college.
Men and women sit outside in comfortable positions, laptops and tablets in hand, enjoying the beautiful weather while they work, play or communicate with friends and family by way of the new Wi-Fi installed by the Sun City Center Computer Club.
The Wi-Fi is only the most recent service offered to residents of the area, and you don’t have to be a member of the Community Association or Kings Point Condominium Association to enjoy it. You simply have to live in the area and obtain the access code.
“We used to have DSL, and when all the computers were in use at the same time (in the computer room they call the lab) they were really slow. So we installed Verizon FIOS. The Community Association said that the upgrade would have to be our responsibility, so we figured we might as well go all the way,” said President Gary Smith. Now the club pays about $800 a month from dues and donations to operate the Wi-Fi.
When the old system was used, the Community Association footed the bill.
“The Wi-Fi is really important. Children and grandchildren come down and they all have their wireless devices in their hands and maybe there’s no way they can get on the Internet where they’re visiting,” said Ilona Merritt, who prepares and prints the club’s monthly newsletter that goes to the club’s 800-plus families.
“I hope this doesn’t sound like bragging, but I am terribly proud of our club,” Merritt said. “Our newsletter, The Journal, has twice won state-wide competitions in Florida for the quality of the information provided. And our club is the second largest computer club in the state.”
Meanwhile, Merritt’s husband Russ has worked with computers since they became popular in the business world almost 50 years ago. He is often found at the club’s “lab,” teaching people new programs and assisting them with problems.
The club’s president, Gary Smith, has more than 50 years in the computer business.
He worked at Boeing Aircraft as an 18-year-old as a computer operator when the machines were as big as a desk and all computers produced punch cards.
“My first computer job was preparing the time cards for all the Boeing employees,” Smith said. He later worked for other companies in the computer field and became vice president of product support and held other directorship positions.
“It was exciting to watch the industry unfold,” Smith said in an interview Feb. 14 in the computer lab as people worked away.
Many were learning Windows 8, which has just been installed on all the lab’s computers. One person was trying to access her email, which was lost in transition as Hotmail.com is changing over to Live.com. Although the two are still operating side-by-side, Hotmail addresses will soon all be changed to Live.com addresses, Smith said. So people using, or corresponding with those addresses need to be aware of that.
About a week ago the Computer Club was awarded a Certificate of Appreciation for its 30 years of service to the community. It was given by the board of the Sun City Center Community Association.
“We are very proud of that,” Ilona Merritt said, because we have tried to really help people understand not only the operation of the programs they need to use, but the basics of the Internet and connecting with their families through email as well.”
Still Ilona says it is her husband who is the computer guru at their house.
Contributing newsletter editor Jack Fischer has been helping the club for more than 15 years and still works with the Merritts and Smith to help keep the newsletter content flowing.
The newsletter, Ilona said, is the life blood of the club because it explains what is going on, when and where people can get individual help, and what educational programs are available to groups.
The February newsletter goes into great detail about desktops, laptops and tablets. Who needs what type of technology to best perform the function for which they use it?
“Not everyone uses the computer for the same reasons,” Ilona Merritt said. “If all you want to do is keep in touch with family, your needs are completely different from photographers who want to use photo programs like Paint and people who shop online.”
Smith said most people who come in to use their computers do not have computers or Internet connections at home. They usually come to use the Internet and often are not familiar with the various functions it can provide. The difference between shopping, asking questions and research — such as genealogy — are vast, and knowing how to approach them quickly and easily can be taught one-on-one during open hours by the lab monitors.
The club has help lines for people who cannot bring their desktops into the lab, but they do not make house calls. That is why it is easier for anyone who needs help to either come into the lab in person or bring their laptop in with them, especially if they have a specific issue, Smith said.
Anyone living within the boundaries of Sun City Center, including Kings Point, all the assisted living centers, or carrying a Sun City Center zip code or address, is welcome to come in to use the lab.
“They do not have to be card-carrying Community Association of Kings Pont Condominium Association members,” Ilona Merritt said.
The club is always seeking monitors and people who teach various skills not being taught now, especially various applications available on the new Microsoft Windows 8 system.
To find out more, locate open hours and help available, or see a list of classes, visit http://scccomputerclub.org.