Students help elderly with technology; Links for Seniors program has more urgency during pandemic
Ashley Settle and Lauren He have made it their mission to teach your grandparents how to use technology so you don’t have to.
Through their organization, Link for Seniors, the two Westlake High School students partner with senior living facilities to provide technology lessons for elderly people. While they started offering classes before the pandemic, Settle and He said their work has taken on new urgency since the world moved online in March.
“When COVID hit we had to switch to a digital-based medium, so we adapted our lessons. We made YouTube videos,” Settle said. “How to Zoom or how to make an ecard and things like that. And then we had a few virtual classes and one-on-one sessions through Zoom.”
Other video tutorials include how to use various email browsers, including Gmail.
Settle said the organization has connected with 10 senior homes in the Austin area, and at least two facilities are projecting their Zoom classes for a small audience.
“There was definitely a really big need for them to be taught and I do think a lot of seniors and the older generation are more open to being helped by people in high school,” Settle said. “A big part of our class was building the personal relationship between the high schoolers and the seniors.”
Adjusting their teaching style for the pandemic digital world has been one of the bigger challenges Link for Seniors has faced, Settle said. During the two in-person lessons the group offered before the pandemic hit, Settle and He recruited students from the National Honor Society at Westlake High to volunteer to go in person to Brookdale Senior Living in Westlake Hills and teach residents how to close applications on their devices and answer questions. Now, Settle and He are trying to teach seniors about technology through technology.
“Instead of getting a wide range of people who kind of know how to use technology, now we’re only able to meet with people who have more advanced skills and can go on and do digital classes,” Settle said. “It’s also hard because being on Zoom you don’t have the same personal connection you do when you’re in person. That’s one of the more difficult aspects we’re still adapting to.”
Even with the difficulties presented by teaching over Zoom and YouTube, Settle and He said their work with senior citizens has been a rewarding experience. Settle said her favorite part is watching a new concept click for someone while teaching.
“You can see what you’ve been teaching connect in their minds and you can tell that they definitely just got it,” she said.
He said one of her favorite parts is learning from the seniors’ life experiences during lessons.
“We wanted to bridge understandings between generations,” she said. “With the classes we want to show that older people they’re not helpless. They can learn and adapt to technology with patience and time we can connect with them.”
Link For Seniors is also collecting old iPads and tablets, and recently launched a GoFundMe to raise money to buy more. He said the iPads they receive and purchase will be donated to senior homes so that people can connect with their loved ones during the pandemic lockdown.
“We realized that not all seniors may have the technology that enables them to FaceTime or Zoom with family members so we wanted to donate iPads and tablets to those in need,” He said.
The organization collected almost 10 iPads so far, and the GoFundMe goal is $2,000, which would buy 20 more. He said they found someone willing to sell them used iPads at a reduced price.
“There are a lot of homes in Austin who have a good amount of seniors but they don’t have the technology for those seniors to use,” Settle said.
As the fundraiser gets underway, Settle said she hopes to continue to expand the reach of Link for Seniors, especially once classes can resume in person.
“Our goal, especially when we’re able to go back in person, is to expand to more senior homes and to probably eventually start introducing it to more high schools so we can reach areas that we personally can’t go to every week.”