Winter Park Teens Help Older Adults Conquer Technology

SONY DSCThe need to be computer literate in today’s society has never been greater—for young and old. In response to the challenges some older adults experience when trying to tackle new technological skills, the Winter Park Health Foundation (WPHF) approved a grant of $30,000 to Volunteers for Community Impact (VCI) to implement the Cyber Seniors Program.

VCI will use the Cyber Seniors Program to bring together young people and seniors to show them how to connect with friends and family via technology, increasing their social interactions, decreasing their isolation, and giving them access to a wealth of information.

The Program involves two groups: the mentors (young people) and participants (seniors). The young people will be reached through targeted recruitment in area schools and using VCI’s existing relationships with Orange County Public Schools, the Winter Park High School Ninth Grade Center, Full Sail University, and through social media. Mentors will ideally be ages 14-25. The participants will learn about this program in senior housing communities, senior centers, libraries, clubs and YMCAs.

Cyber Seniors is a program originally created in Canada in 2009 by two high school students (sisters) who witnessed firsthand how learning to use the Internet had transformed their grandparents’ lives. After learning some basic skills, their grandparents were in touch several times a week by email, Facebook and Skype. The Internet was instrumental in keeping their family connected despite busy schedules and living in different cities. Inspired by this realization, the sisters started the Cyber-Seniors program to help other seniors get online.

VCI will implement five sessions of classes within the Winter Park, Maitland and Eatonville communities. The sessions will be two hours long and pair a student with a senior for a one-on-one class. The duo will work together for eight weeks to be sure the older adult is capable of accomplishing desired uses of his or her electronic device (i.e; tablets, laptops, smartphones, etc.).

Last fall, a Cyber Seniors pilot was conducted using a small number of students from the Winter Park Ninth Grade Center and older adults who came to the Ninth Grade Center campus to improve computer skills. The pilot helped identify opportunities for improvement but also highlighted the richness of the intergenerational experience.

“It was wonderful to witness these new relationships bloom right before my eyes,” said Diana Silvey, WPHF Program Director of Older Adults. “Sure, there was the knowledge exchange while new skills were learned, but this program is about so much more.  Clearly, the sharing of experience through these weekly meetings was gratifying to both mentors and participants.”

The Cyber Seniors program will begin on February 1 and continue for one year. For more information about the program, contact Charlotte Merritt at VCI at cmerritt@vcifl.org.