/ Articles / Sip & Swipe Café — Where rural seniors can navigate the digital world with ease

Sip & Swipe Café — Where rural seniors can navigate the digital world with ease

October 04, 2019 by Abigail Bostwick

Older adults who lack internet ease are less likely to connect to vital resources, such as family and friends, health and wellness, travel and maps as well information and services in their communities — especially in rural areas. 

Now, a free program coming to the Northwoods aims to bring education and internet ease to seniors with a fun and simple method — the Sip & Swipe Café. 

“Navigating the digital world can be a challenge, but for older adults in rural Wisconsin it can be an isolating divide that keeps them from communicating with family, receiving critical information, and finding resources online,” said Stephanie Nespoli, on behalf of Bader Philanthropies, Inc. 

Bader Philanthropies is providing this hands-on, in-person technology training in form of a $60,000 grant, Nespoli explained. The grant, to be distributed over two years, will permit 10 cafes to be established in Oneida, Vilas, Iron, Price and Lincoln counties. Training will include digital and internet literacy classes, taught through Generations on Line, a nonprofit organization providing free internet literacy training, access and skills to the elderly. 

“This really does impact our older community,” Katie Burke, administrator and manager of the Sip & Swipe Café Project with Generations on Line, told The Lakeland Times. “Learning the tablet isn’t the goal. Learning about social connections and information access, how it impacts each person individually — that is the goal.”

Area volunteer coaches support and motivate anywhere from two to three seniors, supporting learners as they work through curriculum on provided hand-held Android tablets, Burke explained. 

“Learners can go at their own pace and be properly supported as they navigate the program,” Burke indicated. “Rather than using intimidating computer labs, Cafés are run to best meet the needs of their community in warm, friendly, open environments, providing a conducive space for learning.”

Each learner is provided a 23-point skill checklist. At the end of each session, learners check off the items they learned. Upon completion of the checklist, a learner “graduates” and receives a personalized certificate of accomplishment.

Participants learn to conquer technology fears, whether on the provided tablets or through the ones they bring along and may be interested in learning more about, or learning about all together, Burke said. 

“Studies show older adults go online less, and rural seniors even less,” Burke said. “We have to help those who have never used technology to see its value. Using the internet enables an older adult to be connected, involved, healthier and more independent. Many studies show the correlation between health and wellbeing and internet use.”

Browsing the internet with ease can open many avenues for seniors, however, especially those in rural areas such as the Northwoods. 

“When you can’t get out with harsh winters, seniors can still shop online, chat with family and travel through websites without leaving their chair,” she noted of the benefits. “It’s important for everybody, but especially older adults.”

Basics covered include emailing, attaching photos, online searches, video calling, enlarging text and photos, using YouTube, app use, library information, opening an email account and social media as well as health care options and news sources and maps. With step-by-step on-screen, large-type instructions that guides users through in-person coaches, the program addresses specific needs to elderly learners, helping them overcome unfamiliar devices.

The program aims to help isolated seniors in rural areas, who are some of the hardest to reach, tackle the difficult digital divide, Nespoli indicated.

“Bader Philanthropies has an unwavering commitment to enhancing the quality of life of older adults,” Bader Philanthropies president and CEO Daniel J. Bader said. “Generations on Line’s Sip & Swipe Café programs do a masterful job of bridging the technology gap in rural Wisconsin by teaching older adults internet literacy skills that help them stay connected with loved ones near and far, expand their minds, and experience a world of possibilities.”

The counties of Oneida, Vilas, Iron, Lincoln and Price are comprised of nearly 26,500 older adults, of which 39% could be digitally illiterate, according to national data from Pew Research Center. This is the only digital, interactive training program made specifically for seniors, organizers noted. 

The grant will allow Generations on Line to serve at least 800 seniors through the Cafés and more than 1,000 older adults in Wisconsin through the downloadable free app called “Easy Tablet Help for Seniors.” The app will then be on the tablet seniors use at home — should they choose — where they can easily go back and access information or go over what they’ve already learned. 

“Without the financial support that provided us with four tablets, as well as essential training and support, we would have been unable to even contemplate instituting a technology education program on par with the proven track record of Sip & Swipe,” said Sara Klemann, director of the Walter E. Olson Memorial Library in Eagle River. “As a public librarian in a rural, aging community that has often found itself on the wrong side of the digital divide, the opportunity provided through funding of this program has real, meaningful impact.”

About Generations on Line

Generations on Line is a nonprofit organization providing free internet literacy training, access and skills to the elderly, founded in 1999. Based in Philadelphia, Generations on Line helps people 65 years old and older overcome the barriers in technology of access, skill and intimidation. The program has trained more than 111,000 seniors in more than 2,000 senior centers, nursing homes, public libraries, retirement centers and low-income housing facilities in 50 states and Canada as well as through its app “Easy Tablet Help for Seniors” available for Apple, Android and Amazon Fire devices. More information at www.generationsonline.org.

About Bader Philanthropies, Inc.

Milwaukee-based Bader Philanthropies, Inc. works to improve the quality of life in the communities in which it works since its inception in 1992. Through the Helen Daniels Bader Fund and the Isabel and Alfred Bader Fund, the organization funds innovative projects and programs, convenes partners, and shares knowledge to affect emerging issues in key areas. To learn more, visit www.bader.org.

Local settings

Oneida County 

The Aging and Disability Resource Center (ADRC) of Oneida County will host three Sip and Swipe Cafés:

• ADRC of Oneida County, 100 W. Keenan Street, Rhinelander, 715-369-6170.

• Demmer Library, Three Lakes, 6961 West School Street, Three Lakes, 715-546-3391.

• Minocqua Library, 415 Menominee Street, Minocqua, 715-356-4437.

Vilas County 

The ADRC of Vilas County will sponsor Sip and Swipe Cafés:

• Walter E. Olson Memorial Library at 203 N Main Street, Eagle River, 715-479-8070.

• St. Germain PrimeTimers at St. Germain Community Center, 545 State Highway 155, St. Germain, 715-479-2028.

• Frank B. Koller Memorial Library, 2 US-51, Manitowish Waters, 715-543-2700.

Iron County

• Iron County Human Services, Hurley Senior Center, 308 3rd Avenue South, 715-561-2108.

Lincoln County 

The Lincoln County Sip & Swipe Cafe already hosted 2019 classes at the Merrill Enrichment Center, 303 N. Sales Street, Merrill, 715-536-4226, but one may call for the 2020 waiting list.

“We saw an overwhelming response to the program,” Katie Burke, administrator and manager of the Sip & Swipe Cafe Project with Generations on Line said. 

“There is much more of a need in our community that we ever imagined,” added Tammie Mrachek of Merrill Enrichment Center’s Sip & Swipe Café. “Learners are receiving a valuable service that empowers them to be more independent, builds their self-esteem, and allows them to communicate more easily with their families.”


Price County 

Café locations are still being determined. Interested learners may contact Annie Knudson at 715-762-7575.

Statewide settings

Currently, there are 62 Sip & Swipe Cafés throughout Wisconsin, 42 of which have been funded by Bader Philanthropies in 16 rural Wisconsin counties. 

“Through the Sip & Swipe Cafés, they gain the confidence that comes with learning new skills, broaden their horizons — and according to ours and other studies — improve their well-being,” Burke sai. “Age should not be a barrier to technology. These are the folks who taught us so much; now it is our turn to give back.”

With funding from the Bader grants, Generations on Line provides four android tablets per venue, support, training, curriculums and materials to host each Sip & Swipe Café location. They also promote family use of the app, enabling family members to coach their older friends or relatives. 

Pilot programs have proven many learners become so attached to the tablet technology they invest in their own tablets. Others choose to use the center’s public access tablets, said Nespoli.


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