Aspen High School’s Circle of Friends service club pairs students with senior citizens. There’s an annual bingo game, knitting circles and monthly technology sessions.
The drop-in technology training is held at the Pitkin County Senior Center. Elders can bring any technology question or electronic device to the open houses and get “schooled” by the teens.
The ratio of teens to seniors is about four to one. The seniors that attend aren’t exactly luddites. They have electronics of all shapes and sizes spread out on the table in front of them.
“I have everything but when you do it once and you’re are older, it just doesn’t stick,” said retiree Jane Kendall.
Kendall recently traveled through China. This month, she is getting help organizing the photos from the trip. There are some on an iPad and some on an iPhone. The hope is to get them all together on a thumb drive and save them on the computer. It sounds easy if you’ve been doing it your whole life.
“They know so much and they grew up with it, and in two seconds she could figure out what to do with all this stuff,” said Kendall as Circle of Friends member Sonya Bensen pokes away on an iPad.
Sometimes, seniors need to learn something as easy as which button resets their smartphone. Sometimes, said Livvy Clauss, co-president of the service group, it’s literally learning a new language.
“There was this one gentlemen, and he wanted to learn emojis. He was very confused. He didn't really know if they had meaning so we told him that you kind of can interpret them however you want to but he thought there was a dictionary for it and a specific meaning for each emoji,” Clauss said that was her favorite lesson so far.
To some, it might seem that kids these days are constantly clicking away on their phones, taking selfies, and speaking in a language of pictures that is up for interpretation. And it may seem that all of that is rather unimportant in the grand scheme of learning new skills. But it turns out some apps have real-world applications.
David Ellis attended this month to learn how to use the Downtowner free transportation app. 17-year-olds Maggie McGuire and Sarah Scharlin didn’t even know the service existed.
“So we are teaching him, but he is teaching us about cool apps,” said McGuire.
Barbara Bloemsma is the advisor to the high school club. She had no idea the monthly technology training events were going to be such a big hit when they began three years ago.
“I was like no, no, no, that’s way too high of an aspiration, we’ll never be able to pull it off, and then the very next year, every single month!” said Bloemsma.
Bloemsma said the Circle of Friends service club is challenging generational stereotypes.
“You hear people often say ‘kids these days, they don’t have manners’ and stuff like that,” started Bloemsma. “But one of the first ones I was walking by and I heard the high school students say to the elders ‘no, no, no, all caps means you’re shouting” and I was all like ‘There’s your etiquette!’”
Senior services program coordinator Mary Barbour also stresses that learning the technology is an entryway to becoming more connected in other ways.
“I’m seeing new faces of senior citizens that I’ve never seen before, so it’s working out really well,” said Barbour. She said she tries to market the senior center not as a hangout for old people but “as a youth center for anyone over 60.”
The seniors in attendance are all retired. They say if they were still working they would be able to keep up with each new advancement. But they don't see many people on any given day and are not exposed to the fast-changing world of technology. Debbie Oberrieder has attended multiple times just to keep connected with her community.
“They say when you are retired there are certain things you should do like exercise, eat well, sleep. But you should be around young people because you lose touch. You lose touch with youth and what they are thinking and they are in a different world now,” Obberieder said.
It also takes some courage to show up and ask for help, after all, these are people who were masters of their craft, leaders in business, and now feel completely left out of the loop. And have to grovel two generations down for assistance.
“My husband wouldn't come, I have to learn it and teach him,” said Obberieder.
For those who are brave enough… the circle of friends’ technology assistance workshops are held the first Wednesday of every month at the Pitkin County Senior Services Center.