By Cynthia Pasquale
Ja Neva Marshall knows her texts from her tweets, but when her laptop failed her, she purchased an iPad and found she couldn’t figure out all its functions. So she turned to an expert—a teenager—for assistance.
Marshall and about 30 other older adults received free one-on-one instruction from National Honor Society students at Fruita Monument High School through Mentor Up, a program funded by AARP Foundation to help those 50 and older use ever-evolving technology.
The Fruita event was one of several organized by AARP Colorado last year. Participants each received a 30- to 45-minute help session where they could get answers to questions about their portable electronic devices. More events are planned around the state this year.
“Usually, I generate a list of questions and wait until my kids, who are in their 20s and live in California, come to visit to get help. So this was a great opportunity,” said Marshall, 54, who lives in Fruita and knows enough about tech devices to “get by.”
She wanted to synchronize her iPad with her iPhone and iTunes; figure out the differences among texting, emailing and using Notepad with each device; and unravel the mysteries of a new keypad that was causing her difficulties.
No ‘silly’ questions
“We were treated with respect,” said Marshall, who now confidently operates her devices. “The kids were so friendly and very patient. They really worked hard with what could have been silly questions, and yet they never once led me to believe that they were silly.”
Older adults sometimes find technology to be an enigma, said Terri Potente, AARP Colorado state president. “Kids have grown up with [technology], and it is second nature for them. The Mentor Up program is the perfect opportunity to have students mentor older adults.” The 15 Fruita students who participated received community service credits.
Christine Fruhauf, a Colorado State University associate professor and gerontologist, recruited 32 students from her adult development and aging class to mentor at a similar event in Fort Collins last year.
“Unfortunately, there are perceptions that older adults aren’t interested in technology, don’t have any knowledge about technology and can’t use it,” said Fruhauf. “That’s just not the case.”
Bayleigh Arey, a sophomore at Colorado State who is studying gerontology, helped one couple at the event set up a Facebook account and taught them about posting and “liking,” adding friends and deleting unwanted items. She helped another couple format their emails for easier viewing.
“In first grade we used PowerPoint, so they were teaching us about using computers when we were that little,” said Arey, 19. “I’ve helped my grandparents with Facebook, so I understand the struggle.”
Rachael Letendre, another Colorado State student volunteer, said most of the people she helped at the Fort Collins tech sessions “simply needed to become better acquainted with their devices.” For instance, she helped a woman set up a Facebook account so she could stay connected with her grandchildren.
“The event was so wonderful,” said Letendre, 20. “What I really enjoyed was how eager everyone was to learn. It was so gratifying … to know that they would utilize their new knowledge to stay connected to their friends and family.”
The Mentor Up program has proved popular. Cathy Lasnik, AARP Colorado senior program specialist, said students come to realize that older adults “are pretty cool” and the older participants appreciate the students’ willingness to patiently answer their questions.
The next Mentor Up events will be April 18 from 9 to 11:30 a.m. in Grand Junction at Central High School, 550 Warrior Way, and in Fruita from 1:30 to 4 p.m. at the Fruita Recreation Center, 324 N. Coulson St.
Registration is required; call 877-926-8300 toll-free. For more information about upcoming Mentor Up events, visit states.aarp.org/students.
Cynthia Pasquale is a writer living in Denver.