March 25, 2017

Bridging generations with technology

Group unites students and seniors

By Stephanie Choate
Observer staff

When 18-year-old Carrie Le-Beau showed a local senior how to zoom in on her son’s home in North Carolina using Google maps, the delight she saw made the effort worthwhile.

“The look on her face was priceless,” LeBeau said. “It was invaluable.”

LeBeau is one of dozens of local students working with Technology for Tomorrow, a Williston-based nonprofit that brings high school students and seniors together, uniting them over the glow of a computer screen.

“It’s kind of like a bridge between younger generations like mine and the seniors,” LeBeau said. “Getting generations interacting with each other.”

Director Eli Harrington said the organization’s mission is threefold.

It helps the seniors better connect with their families and friends through technology like email, Facebook and Skype, as well as avoid isolation.

It also helps the students—who, in this case, are the teachers.

“The students are getting not only community service, but its really educational and very empowering,” he said. “That’s part of our mission, empowering student and young people to realize they have all this knowledge…. High school students have all these innate skills that they don’t realize are so valuable.”

Finally, it builds the community in general.

“We’re really gaining by having these intergenerational interactions,” Harrington said. “Really, what’s so beautiful is to see is that evolution of intergenerational communication.”

Technology for Tomorrow is hosting its first public event next week, bringing free education to older Vermonters who could use a little help navigating the ever-changing world of technology.

On June 17, the group is hosting a screening of the documentary “Cyber Seniors,” followed by a free, interactive computer workshop at the VSAC auditorium in Winooski. The film follows a group of seniors who learn to use the Internet and technology with the help of teenagers—closely mirroring the goal of Technology for Tomorrow.

Those attending the workshop and screening are encouraged to bring their laptops, tablets, cell phones and questions to the event. The event begins with a reception at 5 p.m. The documentary will be shown at 5:45 p.m. and an interactive workshop will begin at 7 p.m.

The June 17 event kicks off a summer workshop series tailored to a series of topics, from digital entertainment like Netflix and Spotify to social media for small businesses. All the workshops are free and take place in South Burlington and Winooski.

Harrington said the summer workshops are part of Technology for Tomorrow’s growth and evolution.

Technology for Tomorrow was organized in 2012 by a group of students at South Burlington High School. Since it began, it has worked with students from six high schools, as well as Boston-based Northeastern University. It also provides scholarships to high school students and donates equipment to senior centers.

LeBeau said she has mainly worked with the senior she taught to zoom in on the satellite image of her son’s home, Nan, teaching her to use her cellphone, among other technological tasks.

“We actually got quite friendly. She told me about her family a little bit, where she lives. I told her a little about myself,” she said. “Each time she comes in she asks for me, which is cool.”

Another mentor, Hussein Safik, 17, said he likes helping people navigate technology, but also has conversations with them.

“There was one guy I met who used to own his business,” he said. “It’s kind of amazing hearing his story and all the things he went through…. Meeting new people is really nice.”

Harrington said he sees moments like those frequently, when young people and seniors begin to loosen up and develop relationships.

“One of the best things that happens is when students are sitting there with senior citizens, and maybe they’re waiting for stream to load and the conversation gets to something that’s not about the technology specifically,” he said.

He said those conversations help break down barriers and assumptions.

“You find out this person who’s clueless about Facebook was a stockbroker and went to Harvard Business School,” he said.

Harrington said he’s hoping to grow the model, reaching out to other groups or organizations that might be doing similar work. He said he also sees possibilities for teaching technology sessions as a way to connect with new Americans.

“We’re looking for more volunteers. We see pretty much unlimited demand,” he said. “We want to help be that connector for volunteers, providing a little bit of structure and tools.”

For more information, visit tech4tomorrow.org or call 233-2593.

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