Student-founded business makes technology understandable for seniors

News

Posted: October 18, 2019

Non-profit ‘Generation Technology’ connects students to help older adults 

It’s common to assume that older adults struggle with new technology — it’s not unusual to overhear adult children complain that their parents can’t send or receive texts, have difficulty reading a book on their tablet or fail to use their laptop/desktop for basic functions like email. What’s uncommon is an organization that challenges the stigma around aging with a solution that focuses on connecting youths and older adults to create lasting experiences. By training and working with youths with programs focused in part on making technology work for older adult participants, this organization focuses on one-on-one interactions to foster new connections and skills at no charge to those they help.

This uncommon business is the Denver not-for-profit Generation Tech. Founded by Cherry Creek High School students Zachary Wang (CEO) and Gursimar Chadha (President). Zach mentions that he got the idea of starting an organization that connected youths and older adults from his time volunteering with the Johnson Adult Day Program where he noticed that many of the older participants became anxious when they talked about technology and the many ways they struggled to connect with their grandchildren. Since then, Generation Tech has been rallying volunteers from younger generations to come alongside local seniors as they carry out and grow their inter-generational vision.

“Generation Tech works with older adults to become more familiar with and use new technologies to connect to the world around them,” Zachary Wang shared. Even as technology reinforces the belief and cultural divides among the young and old, Wang explained, “Our organization advocates and promotes connections between our generation and the generation of older adults in our society.” He emphasizes, “Generation wants to inspire conversation and action that addresses and educates students about ageism and the generational divide that has become so widespread in our modern-day culture and society.”

On weekdays, Generation Tech’s three board members attend Cherry Creek High School – Zachary Wang and Gursimar Chadha are both seniors while Anjali Kurse, who joined the board earlier this year, is a junior. But on weekends and during the summer, Wang and fellow Generation Tech volunteers are helping make the uncommon common. Each Saturday, they visit and train older adults in Denver communities, one of which is the Holly Creek Life Plan Community in Centennial. During every visit, volunteers hold 30- to 60-minute sessions with 10-14 residents, helping to share new skills and use technology to further their passion and interests. Over time, the organization has worked with more than 50 residents at Holly Creek and 150 older adults in the Denver area.

Technology builds friendships and connections

“One of our primary goals is to use technology as a means to develop relationships,” Kurse explains. “We want to get to know residents and develop one-on-one relationships so we can get to know them, and they know us.”

Kurse recalls one moment in particular when she was working with Holly Creek resident Mary Osgood whose original question about communicating with her grandchildren blossomed into her sharing her day’s findings on a third-cousin she was trying to reach out to. They worked to find this cousin on Facebook, and from that day onward Anjali and Mary were inseparable come Saturday. Using Family Tree Maker and Ancestry.com, the two slowly pieced together a picture of Mary’s extended family.

Another goal is to disprove the stigma that new technology is more harmful than helpful for older adults. Kurse recently assisted another resident with creating a SignUp Genius account for a family reunion to encourage attendance as well as organize the event and assign tasks for guests. In Kurse’s words, “This is a great example of newer technology benefiting older adults.”

Recently, when Talia Richard-Lande was working with Elaine Walsh at Holly Creek, the two discovered a connection that far surpasses the movies and subtitles that they were working on. Elaine shared, “When I was young, my mother never allowed me to watch movies so my trips to my cousins’ house would always come with as many double feature films we could go to.” Elaine added, “Working with Talia to play DVDs and pull up subtitles allowed me to share these movies with my neighbors at Holly Creek. These movies bring me back to that youthful delight as I discovered the world through a projector.”

A business model based on growth and sustainability

Generation Tech has a 501(c)(3) status that is used in order to apply for grants and encourage individual donations that will ensure the organization’s longevity and ongoing innovation. Another key focus of the organization has been the future leadership of the organization. Over the summer, Wang and his team have been working closely with Neil Patel, Cherry Creek High School senior, who has helped the team identify and develop ways for leadership to enhance and better plan out the value that Generation Tech brings to the community. Through Neil’s contribution, member engagement and volunteer training have been large areas of focus and success in recent months. Along with Neil, the team is continually looking at and helping build the future generation of leaders within the organization.

Since Generation Tech’s board members work closely with their volunteers, this helps them to quickly adapt and respond to the needs of residents with goals to facilitate deeper learning and discovery. Their goal is to make sure volunteers not only understand their impact but are also continually growing through their experience with the program.

As of now, Wang and the team are exploring additional partnerships with volunteers from a large spectrum of schools across the Denver area including Denver Strive Prep, Grandview High School, and Campus Middle School.

The power of partnerships

In addition to partnering with retirement communities and senior care organizations to reach older adults where they live, Generation Tech is working with Aurora Public Library and the University of Denver’s Knoebel Institute for Healthy Aging to reach a wider range of older adults in the larger community.

Generation Tech’s partnership with Aurora Public Library focuses on utilizing library public relations capabilities and meeting spaces to develop one-on-one programs that reach out to the large baby boomer population as well as a community of older adults that live with their families instead of in an assisted living center. Generation Tech volunteers will help these older adults understand and maximize their use of the library’s online/digitized content and programs.

Generation Tech’s partnership with the University of Denver’s Knoebel Institute for Healthy Aging has them assisting on the Foldit study, led by Professor Scott Horowitz, Ph.D., Biophysics. The study examines the potential for the scientific computer game Foldit to educate elderly individuals and contribute to cognitive improvements. Generation Tech volunteers will help manage the participation of older adults and facilitate their study experience.

As of now, Generation Tech has also started working with Senior Housing Options which is based in Denver. With a new grant that Senior Housing Options just received from AARP, this intersection of technology, combating isolation, and reaching broader racial and socioeconomic groups presents a unique opportunity for partnership. Wang was excited to highlight the potential it brings “for volunteers to engage with a racially and socioeconomically diverse base of older adults” and “for those moments when volunteers bring smiles to faces, helping residents feel understood, cared for, and better connected to their community.”

A new Generation Tech initiative

Recently, Generation Tech launched its “Memories Inspiring Generations” campaign. This new campaign aims to capture and share valuable memories and stories of older adults via videotaped interviews. Residents at the Holly Creek Retirement Community are currently being interviewed by volunteers with customized questions.

“We’re having our volunteers go in and take video of residents sharing key stories and insights which can then be kept by the residents and shared with their families forever,” Wang explained.

Future interviews will also include residents at other communities and adult day care centers.

The hope is that this newest initiative will not only develop Generation Tech’s signature connection between older adults and youths, but that it will also provide a special space “where commonalities are discovered and living history is preserved for future generations.”

For more information on Generation Tech go to gentechco.org.

Written by Chuck Montera. This story originally appeared in Denver Post’s YourHub and is used by permission.

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