New grant will help seniors get wired on coffee and Internet

If your Granny from the Northwest doesn’t know how to check email, she could soon.

Center in the Park, a Germantown-based senior center, has won a $50,000 grant from the city’s Commerce Department to build an Internet café and performance venue for older adults. Mayor Michael Nutter announced the grant this week, which is part of $1 million going toward several development projects throughout the city.

The grant is specifically for predevelopment costs, like hiring a consultant, so the nonprofit hasn’t finalized a location yet. Kevin Dow, the chief operating officer at the Commerce Department, expects it to be somewhere along the Germantown-Chelten corridor. He also says it could involve the revitalization of a vacant storefront.

Center in the Park already provides meeting space, social services and workshops for older adults in Northwest Philly, and this café would expand that part of its operation. It will be based on the Mather’s Café concept from Chicago, which seeks to build community more than the standard coffee shop, by holding lectures, musical performances and other events.

“It’s like a Starbucks for seniors,” explains Lynn Fields Harris, executive director of Center in the Park. She says that older adults who aren’t quite ready to go to a senior center could come to the café as a halfway point.

Dow also thinks the café will tackle a problem among some older adults.

“When we talk about the digital divide, we talk about the economic model. There’s a generational model, too,” he says. “Older populations don’t have as much access to the Internet.”

Harris says that Center in the Park is currently looking for additional funds for the project, which would go toward renovating a storefront and other needs. “We think that with the Commerce grant, it will help us leverage additional dollars,” she says.

Previously, Center in the Park received $17,500 from the Samuel S. Fels Fund and Coming of Age, which she believes helped the nonprofit win a Commerce Department grant.

The Commerce Department estimates that the café will provide five full- and part-time jobs. Dow says the project will likely be complete by the end of 2011.

“We try to be creative with our money. Rather than do the standard community center or a grant for a CDC doing housing, we funded a well-known neighborhood organization, which isn’t a CDC but is still very qualified,” says Dow. “And we like that it supports a very specific audience: the elderly.”

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