In 2004, Tom Kamber and a group of dedicated volunteers launched OATS with the goal of helping seniors learn and use technology so they could live better in the digital age. We started with a free 10-week course in a housing project on Gates Avenue in Bedford Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. Word spread and we soon found ourselves teaching courses throughout New York City—in ten short years delivering more than 10,000 class sessions at over 70 partner sites and building 30 new computer labs for nonprofit partners.
OUR MISSION: Harness the power of technology to change the way we age.
In March 2013, OATS launched the Senior Planet Center in Manhattan—America’s first technology-themed community center for older adults–under the motto “Aging with Attitude” (psst…check out The Unlikely Story of Senior Planet). Nearly 15,000 seniors attended during the first year and the center became an international beacon for what’s possible when older people join together with state-of-the-art facilities, technology, and programs. Senior Planet achieved unprecedented media coverage, appearing in print, television, online, and radio coverage across the world and winning a PR Week award for best nonprofit media campaign of the year.
In 2015 OATS expanded programs outside of New York City for the first time. A new Senior Planet center launched in Plattsburgh, New York, anchoring an emerging focus at OATS on rural aging and technology. Partnerships with local sponsors brought OATS to Maryland, Florida and California. At the same time, OATS was being recognized increasingly as a consulting resource for large corporations, other nonprofits, and representatives of government who were turning to OATS to help them solve challenges in their industries related to aging and technology.
In 2018, foundation grants of more than $3 million helped expand Senior Planet into Texas and Colorado. Also, in 2018, international partnerships brought OATS to Israel and launched a consultancy in Spain, and we’ve been asked to speak on five continents promoting the idea of “aging with attitude.”
In mid-March of 2020, OATS adapted the Senior Planet curriculum from in-person to virtual in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. This shift allowed us to help seniors stay healthy through daily Morning Stretch fitness classes, active and learning with lectures taught live daily, and connected to family and friends through learning how to use the Zoom platform, email, and more from home. It also created an opportunity for us to reach a new, larger audience. 44 percent of participants who joined Senior Planet’s online programs had never attended a Senior Planet program before.
Senior Planet participant Jolynn B. told us, “When we went into quarantine, my world felt smaller and smaller, until I was almost feeling like I was starting to disappear. But my daughter found out about Senior Planet. Senior Planet gave me my world back. Now it’s like I don’t have enough time!”
After a series of successful collaborations, OATS formally joined the AARP family as a charitable affiliate in 2021. The affiliation allows OATS to pursue its mission at scale, helping seniors harness the power of technology no matter their socioeconomic circumstances, geography, educational background or age.
As with all entrepreneurial ventures–even ones with a social mission–it has been a work in progress all along. With thousands of classes under our belt, we’ve developed some pretty strong ideas about how older people interact with technology and how to create world-class programs that can form the basis for systems change. We’ve evolved from digital inclusion trainers focused on technology into social impact designers focused on aging, and we have grown from one small site on a street in central Brooklyn into a program with national operations and global influence. Most importantly, we’ve been able to help change the lives of tens of thousands of older adults.
As one participant told us recently, “I felt the world was passing me by, but now I feel I’m part of it again.”