Frank Pontrelli

So, for Christmas this year, your grown kids have decided it’s time for you to have your very own smartphone. It sure is sleek and impressive looking compared to that flip phone to which you’ve grown accustomed.

But, frankly, the thing scares you. How do you even figure out how to wade through all those apps, much less make a call. You’ve always used a computer to surf the internet and stay connected with family and friends on Facebook. This phone can do that, too? How?

If you’re a senior citizen approaching your new smartphone with trepidation, you may be interested to know that a Riverside police sergeant has kicked off a new program to help you figure it out. Just give him a call and he’ll walk you through it, in person.

Back in the summer, Riverside Sgt. Frank Pontrelli was assigned to be the department’s senior citizen liaison. He’d gone to a couple of meetings with seniors to pass out his card and introduce himself. He was the featured speaker at one meeting and held up his cellphone, asking how many seniors had smartphones.

A number of them did, but few really knew how to use them.

“I started to realize that technology just got past them and they were afraid of their cellphones,” Pontrelli said.

Pontrelli said he knew offering classes or giving PowerPoint lectures to a roomful of seniors wasn’t the answer; people needed the most basic questions about smartphone or smart tablet use (such as an iPad) answered. It was clear they needed one-on-one training.

All senior citizens need to do, he said is give him a call at 708-447-2127, ext. 255 or email him at to set up an appointment. You can schedule an appointment to take place at the police department, or (if you are a Riverside resident) you can set up a home appointment.

Pontrelli, who works the day shift from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., said he can help owners of both Android devices and Apple iPhones set up their phones and walk them through how to use such features as texting, taking photos, setting up a voicemail greeting and retrieving messages. He also can show seniors how to set up and check their email accounts and secure their phones.

According to Police Chief Thomas Weitzel, Riverside is the first Chicago-area police agency to initiate a one-to-one program to help seniors with their cellphones and tablets.

“I was very pleased to have an officer come up with an idea like this on his own,” Weitzel said. “I just said, ‘Run with it.'”