Niagara College student Amanda Rollo helps Geraldine Russell with work on her computer. – Special to Torstar

Program uses computers to bridge gap between seniors, youths

Agency hopes schools, libraries, community groups will join in

Computers have been used for a lot of things.

Brenda Rusnak believes they can even work as a bridge — as in bridging the gap between young people and seniors, when it comes to being tech savvy.

“The one thing that older adults face is that it can be a brand new concept for them,” said Rusnak, who was raised in St. Catharines but now lives in Toronto.

“Kids have a great deal of knowledge of technology, but the challenge for them is how to teach somebody that is at a different level.”

What she came up with is a non-profit organization called Cyber-Seniors that offers programs around North America, including Niagara.

“It teaches the kids some really valuable skills in communication and empathy and patience,” she said.

And, she added, “on the flipside a lot of seniors view technology as being very cold and impersonal … the reality is, it’s a new way of communicating so it’s important for them to learn it.”

The idea is that young people get training in how to explain computer skills “that in many cases would be foreign to seniors.”

After watching a series of videos and passing a quiz, they get a certificate.

Community agencies that join Cyber-Seniors — schools, libraries, seniors centres — bring the young people together with older people who want to learn more about computer use, in a personal setting.

The concept dates back to 2014 and started with Rusnak’s two youngest children, who were both in their mid-teens.

When their grandparents back in St. Catharines got a computer, they could communicate online and share photos.

Her kids did a school project on it, and another daughter, who is a filmmaker, produced a short documentary that was shared online.

Soon, other groups were contacting Rusnak asking to borrow her resources for their own programs.

“It’s quite fascinating to watch … (while shooting the documentary) one of the students would say, ‘Here is an icon,’ and the senior would say, ‘What do you mean, an icon?’

“An icon, to them, isn’t a computer term, right?”

Rusnak said Niagara College uses the Cyber-Seniors program in its recreational therapy curriculum.

Her agency received a federal grant to help provide the program free in Niagara, and is working with Niagara Regional Housing to offer it at four locations across the region.

Recently, Cyber-Seniors held a kickoff event in St. Catharines to explain the program.

The hope, she said, is that more schools, libraries and community centres — any place that has programs for older people and seniors — will join, too.

It provides web portals for more 1,200 resources youths and seniors can access.

Noting high school students need 40 hours of community service to graduate, Rusnak said some have got their certificate and started working with people in their own neighbourhoods or with older people they know.

Others will choose a more structured learning environment, like at one of the Niagara Regional Housing sites.

Over the summer about 45 students and another 45 older people worked at it. Rusnak hopes some computer-savvy seniors can help manage the program in Niagara.

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@gordhoward | 905-225-1626

Originally posted here.