By Amy Orr, Special to the Independent
Lois Zeller is using the Susi Q Senior Center to get ready for the hip-hop musical, “Hamilton.” Before she sees the popular show at the Segerstrom Center this spring, the 70-something senior plans to use a music app to get familiar with the songs.
In the Cyber Seniors program, local students are helping Zeller learn how to operate Pandora and other apps. Every other Wednesday, from 3 to 4:30 p.m., a team of Laguna Beach High School volunteers visits the Susi Q. These youngsters provide free, one-on-one sessions to help seniors get more proficient in their tech skills.
The program was spearheaded by Charlie Dickerson, a junior at LBHS. Charlie and his friends started a club called United Teens for Senior Health. The club’s mission is to honor, support and give back to the older generation. Charlie said the members of United Teens recognize that senior citizens have “trouble with technology because it’s completely different from what they knew growing up.”
In seeking a way to connect with seniors, club leaders spoke with Jo Ann Ekblad, the program director at Susi Q. After Ekblad described technology tutoring provided by Sage Hill students last spring, the LBHS youngsters decided to pick up the baton and reinstate the program with bi-monthly sessions.
“I’m delighted to get it going again,” Ekblad said. “The seniors love it and they learn so much from the kids.”
“My grandma helped me realize the need for something like this,” said 16-year-old Fernando Barraza. “She didn’t know how to work e-mail, so I taught her how to log on and send replies to people.”
From a monthly e-blast that Ekblad sends to 3,000 seniors in the Laguna community, seniors learned that they could register for technology training appointments. When the LBHS students debuted their tutoring program on Nov. 15, all of the time slots were filled by seniors hungry for help.
“As soon as I found out about it, I signed up,” Zeller said. “I made a whole list of things I wanted them to go over. The kids were very helpful and courteous. I’ve been twice and I plan to keep going in.”
Mary Franz, who also received technology assistance, described the students as sweet and eager to help.
“I love the whole concept,” Franz said. “It feels like life has come full circle when teens help seniors solve problems. It’s really a win-win for everybody.”
LBHS junior Destiny Thompson said that working with seniors is very rewarding. She shared her experience assisting a woman who wanted to document her family’s history.
“My help gave her an opportunity to write records of her family history and all it took was some simple explanation,” Destiny explained. “Most seniors are scared to mess something up, but once you show them that there isn’t much to mess up, they get a lot more comfortable.”
Charlie acknowledged that actions that are simple and intuitive to teens can be complicated and confusing to older people. He noted that seniors seem more secure when they have a simple instruction sheet.
“I’ve found that giving them a written, step-by-step process on how to tackle certain tasks is the most effective way to teach them something new,” Charlie said, “because they can refer back to that checklist if they ever forget.”
Ekblad said that seniors want to keep up with the times; they want to be able to call for an Uber and download an audiobook. They are eager to learn about social media and see photos of their family members. She said the student tutorials help them do all of that, and more.
“These kids from LBHS are awesome,” Ekblad said. “Their commitment and enthusiasm are just wonderful. I can’t thank them enough.”