Good Neighbors: Henry Khalil

Each year, our Good Neighbor Awards honor some of the dedicated neighbors who volunteer their time to help seniors and people with disabilities get the resources and support they need to age and thrive in their own homes and neighborhoods. We are delighted to honor Henry as our 2017 Good Neighbor Honoree for SF Connected computer tutoring.

Olga (left) and Henry (right) with Centro Latino participants advocating for seniors at City Hall

A dedicated volunteer, Henry (pictured right with Centro Latino participants) learns computer skills and then shares his new knowledge with other students.

Henry Khalil has seen the computer replace tools in his own industry. Now he volunteers at Centro Latino, helping others make the shift – answering questions and lending a hand as they try to understand the Internet and use social media.

It’s all somewhat new for him, too. Henry spent 30 years as a draftsman for Caltrans. For the last 10 years of his career, CADD (computer aided design and drafting) had replaced the pen and Henry, like other members of the department, had to become proficient. “New commands, new buttons, it wasn’t easy.

“I never used a computer (before he had to learn CADD). I still don’t have a cell. We drew everything by hand. At our age … it’s not easy.” Henry eventually bought a computer, but he rarely used it and “knew very little. My generation didn’t grow up using the computer.”

Peer Learning: Sharing New Skills One Step at a Time

These days he’s still learning, while helping others learn. Every Monday and Tuesday morning he volunteers in the computer lab at Centro Latino on 15th Street near Valencia.

Henry is careful to explain that he does not consider himself a teacher. “Keeping the mouse steady and learning when to right and left click, when to double click and single click. Opening windows and what to do once you get to windows. Finding files and transferring them.” The problems the students have are the same problems Henry’s had, and still has.

“Olgita (Olga Poveda, a computer trainer from the Community Living Campaign) teaches the program. I learn it and then I teach others. She teaches the more sophisticated stuff. How to use Facebook, YouTube, and email. When the students have questions I can’t answer, I tell them to ask Olga. I don’t fool myself and I don’t want to fool anyone else.” Community Living Campaign and Community Technology Network offer computer classes at Centro Latino as part of the SF Connected program funded by the San Francisco Department of Aging & Adult Services. For computer classes in other locations, see the CLC Calendar and the SF Connected website

While Henry recognizes that today you can’t get a job without knowing computers, he fears that our reliance on computers has “made us impersonal, mechanical.”

Despite his growing computer expertise, Henry still thinks personal contact is preferable. He recalled inviting his cousin to his house to celebrate his (the cousin’s) birthday. The family all texted birthday greetings. “How much better it would have been if they called.”

In addition to volunteering in the computer room, Henry also assists Centro Latino with outreach, greeting people at community fairs. “I talk about the services we offer. I tell them I prepared for my citizenship exam here. I attended classes upstairs and answered practice questions on the computer. I tell them to come for a nice warm meal, and to socialize. I always tell them people shouldn’t come here just to eat. It’s not only a $2 meal. It’s important to socialize at our age. This is a friendly place.”

Olga nodded in agreement. “Henry wants to help in any way he can. He’s very compassionate, very open.” Some of the seniors Henry recruits visit the computer room, where they once again find him, available and ready to help them master the basics of computer literacy.

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