Tech-savvy teens bridging digital divide at Cyber Seniors

Emily Bradshaw, 17, assists one of her students, Edna Cusack, during a session of Cyber Seniors. Submitted Photo

Troy Shantz

If you’re on the youthful side of the digital gap you’ve likely been asked to help an older friend or relative figure how to get on Facebook.

But for some local teens, that’s just the beginning.

Cyber Seniors is a local program that pairs seniors with teen volunteers eager to share their tech savvy. It can start with something as basic as typing and using a mouse, and progress to sending email and using Google, Facebook and YouTube.

“I like working with computers and I like getting to know people so I thought it would be a really cool opportunity,” said Emily Bradshaw, 17, who joined last year.

“It was really interesting because I don’t communicate with people from that generation very often.”

The twelfth grader at Northern Collegiate said some of her senior students are pretty chatty.

“I had one woman who told me all about the time she spent in Charleston, South Carolina when I mentioned I was going there over the summer,” Bradshaw said with a laugh.

“She just wanted to talk about Charleston, which was fine, but I wanted to teach her how to use Facebook.”

Bradshaw, who hopes to study political science at the University of Toronto next fall, said getting sidetracked is a perk of the job.

“I had one senior who wanted to talk about trains for the whole hour and a half,” she said. “It was a challenge to keep him on task sometimes but it was fun.”

The experience is often rewarding for both parties. At her very first session Bradshaw helped a woman create a Facebook account.

“Immediately, she found her grandkids and her daughter. She was telling me all these stories and memories she had of these people, sending them messages. It was really cool to know that I had sort of fostered that communication.”

Indeed, Bradshaw said she still gets emails and messages from prior students.

Cyber Seniors is run by Karen Minty, who got it off the ground with an Awesome Foundation grant.

“I created the program because I felt that students wanted better volunteer opportunities,” said Minty, noting some high schoolers have difficulty securing the required 40 hours of volunteering.

“I wanted them to find something meaningful so maybe they would stick with it and see the value in contributing to community.”

She said the exchange can help young volunteers improve communication skills, build confidence and demonstrate their reliability.

Classes are held Tuesdays and Thursdays at Trinity Anglican Church, from 3 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. For more, visit www.cyberseniorssarnia.com, email cyber.seniors.sarnia@gmail.com or call 519-312-1710.