In today’s quickly changing world, advances in technology may seem daunting, especially for many seniors who still remember gathering around the family radio to hear the daily news. Since that time, technology has changed the way we do things by leaps and bounds.
Intimidating? It certainly can be, but not for a group of seniors at The Wesleyan at Estrella in Georgetown who benefit from the Mentor Up program, a national project started by the AARP Foundation and 4-H that helps seniors stay connected—literally and figuratively—and adjust to technological challenges they may face.
Laura Epps inherited the project from her daughter, Jessica, who started Mentor Up in Georgetown three years ago before leaving to pursue her graduate degree. Laura has served as 4-H club manager for ten years and can’t say enough about the program. “We reached out to our 4-H members with the new project and were met with a great response from a solid group of youth who are committed to it,” Laura says.
Approximately 12 club members gather at the Wesleyan once a month to help residents with an array of technology needs. For instance, Hannah helped resident Pat Helms sync her sewing machine to her computer so she could design patterns for her quilts. Connor showed three overjoyed residents how to cancel their Facebook accounts because they were receiving unwanted friend requests. Resident Nora Haines learned from another member how to set up her answering machine so she wouldn’t miss phone calls from friends and family. Club member Andrew showed Jim Foshee how to put his phone on vibrate so it wouldn’t ring during church services, and Payton opened pictures on Frances’s tablet. Frances was delighted to discover pictures, hiding on the tablet for two years, of her deceased husband. “It brought a tear to my eye,” she says.
“It may seem like the program is about technology,” Laura explains, “but it’s really about intergenerational relationships. Some students have grandparents, but some don’t. It helps them better understand an older generation.”
Laura conducts an exercise with students to help them understand changes that sometimes come with aging. The students stuff cotton balls in their ears to simulate limited hearing and smear Vaseline on sunglasses to mimic limited vision. They tape their fingers together to simulate arthritic movement and strap sponges on their feet to experience the challenge of maintaining balance.
Students feel valued because they have knowledge to share, and seniors are thankful for the youths’ willingness to help them learn new things. Laura says, “The relationships that have developed between the students and residents are a joy to see!”