Students help older adults adjust to 21st century technology

Have you ever noticed that older adults seem to be afraid of new technology?

My grandmother is one of these adults. When my brother, Billy, left for the Naval Academy last year, we quickly learned that he would have little time to communicate and that texting is the best option. My grandmother was faced with a choice: either learn how to use modern technology or slowly lose contact with her grandson.

Sophomore Sean Butler and I decided to create a solution to the intergenerational divide. Three months ago we started a club on campus called Wired for Connections/Mentor Up. Our goal is to help every older adult in our community learn the skills needed in technology to stay connected.

Mentoring has typically meant someone older sharing knowledge and skills with someone younger. We have flipped this paradigm and are showing that teenagers actually have a lot of skills that older adults need to get by in today’s world. Every Saturday at least a few of our club members head down to the Carmel Foundation in order to meet one-on-one with a member who wants to learn how to use their technology. Each session is 45 minutes long and tailored to the member’s personal needs.

Before I met Sean, he was doing this work by himself and had already won a grant for his program. But when he realized that there were more than 50 people waiting for his help, we got to work on creating our club. Sean applied for the grant again this year, and we won $1,000 and an all-expense paid trip to Washington D.C. for meetings at the national headquarters of the American Association of Retired Persons.

Each day we walked from our hotel to the AARP headquarters and met in their conference rooms in the heart of downtown D.C. At the tables surrounding us were 18 other grantees from across the United States. All 20 of us had been hand selected by AARP and Generations United as grant winners of projects that strive to strengthen the intergenerational connections. Our weekend in Washington D.C provided Sean and me with many ideas on how to expand the club and gave us a support system of people all across the U.S.

For the first time in their history, the Apple Store teamed up with the students from our club and taught us how to better use technology and what tips might be helpful when teaching older adults.

What our club needs are more members. Any student can join the club and sign up to mentor older adults whenever it fits into their schedule. Our club members have found that we are not only gaining community service hours; we are gaining knowledge, stories and connections with the older adults in our community.

Although my grandmother still gets frustrated at times with her new iPhone, I have seen the huge smile on her face when a text comes in from my brother. Wired for Connections/Mentor Up has changed our community for the better, and with the help of more students will continue to do so for years to come.

If you’d like to be part of the process, contact Sean Butler or me, or come to our next meeting, Wednesday, March 5, at lunch.

-Carly Rudiger