BETHLEHEM — Two generations of seniors came together to learn how to use technology, impart wisdom and share life stories at the town’s first “Seniors and Teens Talk Technology” event on Monday, Jan. 27.
Taking place at Town Hall from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m., the event was coordinated by the town’s Senior Services and Parks and Recreation departments.
The latter’s recreation administrative assistant, Meredith Holmquist, said six senior students — five from Bethlehem Central High School and one from Guilderland High School — connected with a dozen senior citizens to help them learn how to make the most of their smartphones, tablets and laptops.
“We had this short list of things seniors could benefit from learning about, like certain apps, like Pillboxie which helps remind them to take their pills or medication,” Holmquist said. “Other things included teaching the seniors about how to use their phone’s text-to-speech feature or how to pair with Bluetooth or how to download an app or how to make text on their electronic device automatically bigger so it’s easier for them to read.”
Jane Sanders, the director of Senior Services, said learning such tools can be helpful because “many seniors are afraid or don’t know how to use technology like phones and tablets. Many of them live alone and don’t have family or their grandchildren nearby to teach them. So, I thought this event would be a great learning opportunity.”
Holmquist said she observed the teens and seniors interacting with one another during the event and appreciated the overall positive atmosphere. “I visited each table and walked around. The teens were smiling, the seniors too,” she said. “Everybody learned something different. One woman wanted to learn how to use Facetime, another wanted to know how to save photos from her phone’s camera.”
She added that the event was inspired by how her grandparents helped raise her and she grew up around senior citizens, recognizing them as “essential people in our society.” At her job, she got inspired a few months ago to organize this event after she researched what programs other municipalities had for seniors and she realized it would be “a great opportunity” to partner teenagers with seniors to help them with technology needs.
She then reached out to Sanders to ask if there were some seniors interested in being matched with student volunteers for the event. Sanders said she advertised the event to seniors via her department’s newsletter, fliers across town and word of mouth; her department also transported some of the interested seniors to the event.
“I think the seniors enjoyed it and they appreciated the opportunity to ask their questions,” Sanders said. “I think it gave seniors an opportunity to learn and it gave the young kids an opportunity to share their tech knowledge. They all seemed patient, which was nice.”
Holmquist said, “It was initially about tech assistance but the event turned out to be so much more than that. There were so many social connections and seniors showed them pictures of their grandchildren and what they used to do for a living. The teenagers were telling them about their school projects and what their plans are for graduation and beyond.”
As the event ended, both Holmquist and Sanders checked in with the students and seniors and said they were all receptive to the idea of returning for another tech help event in the spring. Holmquist added that 16 high school students originally applied to volunteer at the Jan. 27 event but only six were let in; she also said the event is likely to happen again in March or May so students who were not able to volunteer can do so then and it can attract more interested senior residents.
When asked about the general societal assumption that teenagers spend too much time on electronic devices and seniors don’t know how to use them, Holmquist said, “I think you can’t generalize for a population. Yes, technology is not good all the time but overall it’s a positive thing. This whole experience was a way to show that through technology, seniors can make personal connections with their families like with Facetime or Facebook and they can read books on their iPads or Kindles. It also was maybe empowering to teens who felt they could help seniors.”
Sanders said, “Without insulting younger people, I think so much is done by texting and online and people forget about in-person communication skills. It’s not a universal thing to all young people by all means but it’s good to not always use technology, like putting away phones during meal times which is more for family time.”