A little nervous about jumping into the world of email, the Winter Park resident recently attending her first Cyber Seniors class was willing to start by first learning how to research topics on Google. Her topic of choice was flowers, and for the rest of her training session, she and her young trainer looked them up. Her face lit up with each discovery.
On the other side of the room, another participant was reluctant to log on to her computer, but she did get her young trainer to help her learn how to use her phone.
Still another participant was excited to get helpful training on downloading music and films.
These seemingly baby steps into the world of computers are big ones when it comes to keeping older adults connected with the people and world around them. Staying connected is critical, researchers say, to helping older adults maintain good physical and emotional health.
That’s a reason behind Cyber Seniors, a program that pairs older adults hoping to become computer literate with high school and college age students and others willing to teach them, one-on-one. The program began expanding in Winter Park and other nearby communities in April with grant support from the Winter Park Health Foundation (WPHF).
Developed in Canada by two teenage sisters who saw how learning computer skills had opened the world for their grandparents, the program also was the subject of a popular and inspiring documentary called “Cyber-Seniors.”
The documentary was shown during local Active Aging Week activities at the Winter Park Ninth Grade Center and it inspired the school’s leaders to offer a pilot program matching their students with local seniors, and it was a success benefitting both teacher and student.
As a result, WPHF approved a $30,000 grant to expand the program to Volunteers for Community Impact (VCI), which has experience overseeing other intergenerational programs such as the Foster Grandparent program.
“Cyber Seniors is about so much more than technology,” explained Diana Silvey, WPHF Program Director for Older Adults. “The program provides a great opportunity to build a bridge between generations, inspiring new insights and perspectives as personal relationships develop. It is so gratifying to see the learning that takes place by all participants-both as it relates to computer skills and life.”
Under the grant, five Cyber Senior Sessions will be offered. Each will include about 15 older adults and 15 students. The first session began in April at the Tranquil Terrace apartment complex for older adults operated by the Winter Park Housing Authority. Volunteers included students from Winter Park High School, Rollins College, UCF and others. Program participants were residents of Tranquil Terrace.
Volunteers participated in a class on senior sensitivity training before the start of the program, as did students who served in the Cyber Seniors pilot at the Winter Park Ninth Grade Center.
For more information about volunteering or participating in the program, contact Princessa Long, VCI Special Programs Coordinator, at plong@VCIFL.org or 407-298-4180 ext. 108.