LA GRANGE PARK – Chuck Tracy is 95 and just learning to email.
Seated in front of his computer in his apartment at Bethlehem Woods Retirement Community, Tracy clicks through his messages with help from Rita Kuzmenko, who started Gentle Technology Guidance, Inc., last October to help people like Tracy.
“I clicked on delete,” Tracy said, “nothing happened.”
“Try clicking without moving the mouse,” Kuzmenko said. “It’s important to try to keep your hand steady.”
Kuzmenko, 49, started her business after talking with several friends who wanted to email with their parents, but their parents didn’t know how. At $50 an hour, her service is a bargain compared to Best Buy’s Geek Squad, which charges $99 for an in-home visit, plus additional costs for repairs or other services.
Kuzmenko offers help with any hardware, software, tablets and e-readers. The service requested most often is help with emailing.
“Basically, that's all I'm expecting of the computer,” Tracy said. “I may find out that I can expect more. But right now, it's just a read-and-write type thing."
Like the name of her business suggests, Kuzmenko teaches at a pace set by her clients. She gives each of them a folder and fills it with sheets of instructions – she calls them “recipes” – for different tasks.
"If you can point and click and read, you can do it,” said Kuzmenko, who lives in Brookfield and, through her business, is a member of the La Grange Business Association. “You can work on the computer."
Kuzmenko recently completed a master’s of education degree with an emphasis in design and technology from Purdue University. But she’s been into technology since she got her first Commodore 64, an 8-bit computer created in 1982. At almost every job she’s held, she’s doubled as tech support, and now she gets to do it full time.
"When you see their faces light up when they get an email from a relative, it's great,” she said. “And the relatives are so happy they are getting their emails now."
Getting there comes with challenges, though. Her clients often struggle with holding the mouse still. They download programs they don’t need, which fills up their computers. And they worry about losing control of their personal information – Kuzmenko teaches them how to identify spam emails by holding the cursor over the return address to see if it’s legitimate.
Besides all those issues, just sitting in front of a computer can be intimidating for people who grew up decades before it was invented.
"I think it's just getting over that fear that it's so much to learn,” Kuzmenko said. "My focus isn't to do it for them. My hope is to help them learn to do it themselves."
Because her clients don’t typically surf the web, Kuzmenko advertises in newspapers and by word of mouth. She contracts with several retirement homes, where she works with multiple clients.
Tracy was one of her first regulars. He wanted to be able to correspond with his kids, including his son in Minnesota and daughter in New York, and with friends.
When he has trouble, Tracy pulls out Kuzmenko’s “recipes” and follows the steps. When that doesn’t work, he calls her.
"I have hopes of getting to 100, so if I do, then I'll have five years having the benefit of Rita's direction,” he said. "She is a heck of a good teacher."
To set up an appointment or ask questions about Kuzmenko’s service, contact her at 708-790-1306 or go to www.gentechguide.com.