I had the immense pleasure of talking to Brenda Shelman, a 60-year-old Byte Back alumna who now works there administratively. It was wonderful learning about her and what pushed her forward in this journey of learning something entirely new. She explained the difficulties she encountered, along with the support system she gained and how her confidence was restored through her Byte Back family.
Initially, Brenda didn’t see herself needing technology training, let alone going out to find it. After nearly ten years of not working due to her disability status and finally being cleared by her doctor to work on part-time status she decided it was time to get back to the busy and fulfilling life she used to have. The first step in that was getting a job, but she quickly realized the world changed and didn’t have the skills to compete in the workforce.
Everyone around her seemed younger and smarter and the world was moving much faster than she remembered due to technology. Realizing the disadvantage she was at, it took a toll on her confidence. “I just felt lost,” she said.
However, she didn’t dwell on these factors and instead used them to motivate her so she could catch up to the 21st Century. She enrolled into Byte Back’s Computer Foundations 1 class and never looked back.
Even though she was happy with the direction she was taking, she still had concerns that contributed in chipping away at her confidence. The biggest one that nagged at her was being able to learn and retain the knowledge she was receiving from Byte Back.
She would say to herself “I’m trying to do what? Get back into the job field, are you crazy!” How could she think that she could compete, but soon she realized that her fellow classmates, most older people like herself, were in similar situations or changing careers. Enrolling in Byte Back’s classes allowed them to try something new.
At first, Brenda struggled, like everyone else, but Byte Back is more than someplace to learn technology. It’s a place where people lift each other up and keep the end goal in sight—graduating. Brenda was able to achieve that goal after suffering a family tragedy and missed a few classes, but the support system she got from Byte Back was what ultimately encouraged her to come back. The one thing she learned was she wasn’t alone in this journey.
When you think about technology, you don’t necessarily think about being afraid. However, that was something Brenda thought about when she first started out. Byte Back gave her the ability to be fearless and not be afraid to “press buttons and try things.”
After completing the Computer Foundations 2 class and becoming certified in Microsoft Outlook after taking the Microsoft Office Specialist in Outlook Certification, she felt like she was ready to join the workforce. Today, Brenda still has hesitation with technologies like social media, but she also has the comprehension, capability, and most importantly, the confidence to take on other types of technologies. She knew, regardless of her age, she could compete with her peers and individuals younger than herself.
Brenda’s life has changed greatly since graduating from Byte Back, and all for the better. She has gained invaluable friendships with students and instructors alike and she has a new career. In October 2017 she started as a Student Ambassador for Byte Back, which was only supposed to be a two-week assignment to help register incoming students. Today she works at Byte Back doing administrative work.
Brenda has always been a confident woman, but Byte Back has shown her she can do anything. Her age is merely a number which doesn’t dictate her life or goals. Today she volunteers again and feels more useful in her Brookland community. Oftentimes she’ll tell people, young and older, about Byte Back. Especially those who seem like they need direction or a boost in confidence.
Brenda left words of encouragement for anyone who has been a similar situation: surround yourself with like-minded people who want you to do better. When you start to feel low and maybe not as determined, they can give you the “pick me up” you need to keep going. Also, remember to just try and do it one day at a time.
Brenda recognizes how seniors and people with disabilities can oftentimes be overlooked, but she sees how the CTA Foundation and Byte Back work together to not only shed light this disparity but let these groups know they are just as important as any abled body person.
For more information about Byte Back or learn how to enroll in their classes, you can visit them at byteback.org/.