Without an ocean, land-locked in the Midwest, teen volunteers in St. Louis help seniors dive in and learn how to surf the internet, use smartphones, digital cameras, grasp social media, and access Skype. The idea to offer free basic tech training to senior citizens was ignited when my own grandparents struggled with their mobile phones and learning how navigate the Internet. I realized that youth could fulfill a critical and valuable role helping senior citizens adapt to technology. Teen volunteers could provide both individualized and group workshops on the basics of using mobile phones, digital cameras, social media and Skype.
Youth can be dynamic and motivational teachers for older adults because of their enthusiasm and comfort with technology. With the lack of summer employment opportunities for youth, volunTEENnation.org recruited several teens to tutor senior citizens and offer one on one training with digital gadgets and basic Internet skills at local retirement centers, community centers, and nursing homes. The workshops and tutoring is a win-win situation for the teens and senior citizens, teens gain critical workplace skills and the opportunity to interact and learn from older adults. The older adults learned new skills and valued and appreciated their training and interactions with teenagers. Our teen volunteers learn to problem-solve, clearly explain and simplify ideas, and develop an understanding and appreciation of the wonderful benefits of intergenerational relationships.
One of the first hurdles for most teen volunteers was getting senior citizens to the point where they could learn technology comfortably. Feeling at ease during the tutoring was overcoming the fear of breaking the equipment. We were surprised that many retirement and nursing homes had access to computers, but limited training and workshops available to the residents. Email and Skype provided a wonderful way for grandparents to keep in touch with their adult children and grandchildren.
I am encouraging youth throughout the nation to get involved. My work can be easily duplicated throughout the nation, high school students can sign up to tutor local senior citizens one-on-one or in groups on the benefits of social media, utilizing Skype, smartphones and even digital cameras. More than ever, young and old must join forces to address problems that impact our world. We need to foster and develop that spirit of intergenerational cooperation to create stronger and connected communities.