Youth for Positive Change spoke to the Cyber Seniors team about their organization and the importance of inter-generational connectivity in the digital age.
Today, I’m talking to Kascha Cassaday, one of the founders of CyberSeniors. Hi Kascha! Could you start by telling us what Cyber Seniors is and why you started it?
My little sister Macaualee and I started Cyber Seniors after seeing firsthand how much joy it brought our grandparents to be able to listen to their youngest grandchild play piano every day despite him living over 3,000 miles away. When we started the program 10 years ago, we had family living around the world and the internet was essential for our grandparents to keep in touch with their kids and grandkids. We knew they weren’t alone in their lack of tech awareness, so we set out on a mission to teach senior citizens how to get online. We were still in high school at the time and needed to earn community service hours, so we convinced a group of our friends to head to a local retirement home after school once a week. We would spend a couple of hours teaching some very wise, funny and loving older adults everything from how to use a mouse to how to online bank.
In one sense, the generational divide seems to be growing day-by-day. What role do you think social media can play in closing that gap?
The rapid changes in social media are hard for anyone to keep up with (I’m only 27 and am profoundly confused by TikTok!) In my view, it’s the responsibility of the more “technologically enlightened” (a.k.a. young people!) to teach older adults how to navigate the online world. Not only does this introduce seniors to a whole new dimension of modern life, it also makes for great bonding time.
Young people and the elderly can learn a lot from one another. What are some of the lessons you’ve learned while working with older folks?
Older adults love to share wise words and inspirational quotes which are always nice to listen to and absorb. When you work with older adults you also learn the key skills of patience, understanding and you gain the ability to be non-judgmental, which, in my opinion, is an asset we should all have.
The whole CyberSeniors project seems more prescient today than ever, especially with the COVID-19 pandemic forcing older people to isolate from the general population. Could you share with us any stories you’ve heard about the positive impact the program has had on older folk who are self-isolating?
We know that most of the seniors we work with are connecting with family and friends through video calls and social media during this time which is helping with their mental health when it comes to social isolation. But there are tons of seniors who aren’t capable and need our help.
We are currently in the process of completely digitizing our program. Our program is already online for mentors (teenagers) who can sign up and get trained to become Cyber Senior mentors in a matter of hours (hint hint: if you’re out of school and looking for a way to help during this pandemic.) We will be launching online tutorials for seniors soon to help with tasks like ordering groceries online, managing prescriptions, and accessing other online resources that will allow them to access basic necessities from the safety of their homes. There will also be a call-in number where seniors can call us, ask questions and we can walk them through even the most basic task like turning their computer on to troubleshooting their internet connection. Through these phone calls and online tutorials, we want to not only help with social isolation, but help seniors continue to live full and healthy lives.
I know that a documentary was made about Cyber Seniors. Can you give us some insight into how it came about?
When my younger sister and I started the program, we asked our older sister to come along and film promo material for us. She realized that the people we were meeting and the stories they had about life and technology would make for a great documentary. And she was right, not only is the film heartwarming, it’s also hilarious and a true insight into life for our elderly.
Finally, how can those interested get involved with Cyber Seniors?
Visit our website at www.cyberseniors.org to see how you can get involved. As of right now, we are focusing our efforts on North America, but we have resources that allow anyone, anywhere to sign up and start their very own cyber-seniors program. Be sure to check out our website and contact us with any questions or queries!