Teens Teach Tech

Millennial and teens join forces to help seniors through the perils of technology

Teeniors rookie Oison O'Connell gives Shirley Davis a hand with her iPhone (Roan Lee-Plunket)

For years it's been an ongoing joke that people over 40 (or over 20, really) can't operate screen technology. It's young people who are constantly texting, Tweeting and Instagramming, and never the two generations shall meet.

Enter Teeniors, a Santa Fe-based coaching program that hires young men and women to educate seniors on the use of technology. This can mean anything from accessing voicemail and texting to troubleshooting viruses and downloading a bingo app. Following her work in the film industry, Albuquerque native Trish Lopez started the program three years ago; back then she was paying the Teeniors out of pocket, but since has secured funding and support from Walgreens and Comcast.

“Our goal is to empower seniors; to help them connect with their loved ones and the world through technology,” Lopez tells SFR. The Teeniors program provides some much-needed insight in the technology arena, but also bridges the gap between old folks and the younger generations, something seemingly rare in this day and age.

The program provides private, in-office coaching at $49.95 and sessions in the home for $59.95. But last week, seniors at the city's Esther Gonzales Senior Center got the services for free.

"A lot of people refer to the concept as 'intergenerational.' Me, I call it normal," says Gino Rinaldi, director of the city's Division of Senior Services. "If there was a No. 1 reason that I can say why I got into the field of aging, it was because of my relationship with my grandparents. I think that there's a lot of children today who don't get the experience of the wisdom of a lot of our older community. This is a great opportunity to connect two generations. If you really think about it, if you get [young people and seniors] together, they don't really have anything in common; but [the program] is a prop, it's something in common."

About 20 seniors and young people gathered on Thursday for a short presentation followed by a half hour of  technology coaching.

"Kids say, 'Oh, it's so easy, you're just gonna love it," Shirley Davis says of her iPhone. "Well, it isn't easy."

"All of the elders are having a lot of trouble with this new technology, and I'm one of them," says Cleo Velasquez, whose goals include learning to text and send photos to her grandchildren.

Teens in neon yellow shirts pair off with seniors and they set to work. The appear respectful and patient, and it's clear from the way they connect to the seniors that they are here to form relationships, not just to problem-solve. By the end of the session, many of the groups have made progress.

"It's better to have a one-on-one [session]," Velasquez says. "You can't learn from a screen."

The seniors fill out feedback forms for teen coaches to review before leaving, and most say of older "students" say they'll be back for the next coaching session.

Senior Michael Waterman is enthusiastic. "Oh, heck yes," he says, when asked if the session was helpful. "Most of the other people that I asked were not as knowledgable and helpful. I was asking the wrong people. At first I was embarrassed [to get help from the younger generation], but you just gotta open up your mind."

The program's next Santa Fe session will again take place July 27 at the Mary Esther Gonzales Senior Center from 1-3 pm; more are planned in Albuquerque: 10 am Wednesday Aug. 8 at the Manzano Mesa Multigenerational Center (501 Elizabeth St.) and Friday Aug. 10 at the Los Volcanes Senior Center (6500 Los Volcanes Road). And for those tech-savvy folks who want to help out, the program is now on the lookout for teens who want to help in Santa Fe.

Planning to attend? RSVP with your name and technology issue at teeniors@gmail.com or call 505-600-1297.

Interested in getting paid as a Teenior? Call 505-600-1297 or go to teeniors.com to apply and learn more.

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