Breezeline Launches Community Impact Program Promoting Digital Literacy and Responsible Use of Technology

Program also supports online safety and STEM initiatives for young women

June 15, 2022 09:00 AM Eastern Daylight Time

QUINCY, Mass.–(BUSINESS WIRE)–Breezeline, the nation’s eighth-largest cable operator, is pleased to announce a series of online community education initiatives designed to foster digital literacy and equity while supporting online safety, a healthy tech-life balance, as well as promoting technology careers for young people.

Recognizing the great benefits that internet connectivity provides, but also mindful that not all members of the community currently share in its benefits equally, and seeking to foster the responsible use of technology, Breezeline is supporting more than a half-dozen non-profit organizations to promote these objectives in its communities. These include:

  • Digital Literacy for Seniors: Breezeline has partnered with Cyber-Seniors to create free, educational webinars teaching digital literacy basics for senior citizens. Cyber Seniors also provides free, live, one-on-one sessions to help device users become more tech savvy.
  • Tech Life Balance: Breezeline has partnered with The Digital Wellness Lab (DWL), which is composed of medical doctors, psychiatrists, clinical social workers, and research scientists at Boston Children’s Hospital who are working to understand and promote wellness in the digital age. With DWL, Breezeline will present short videos, webinars, and social media content to help parents understand the impact of media on their children and the practical steps they can take to mitigate its effects.
  • Cyber-Bullying Prevention: Breezeline has partnered with Pacer Center’s National Bullying Prevention Center to create cyberbullying prevention resources to distribute to schools and families during National Bullying Prevention Month in October and throughout the year.
  • Online Safety: Breezeline has partnered with CyberSecurity Non-Profit (CSNP) to create short videos, blogs, and social posts to inform and educate the public on ways to protect against cybercrime and to promote online safety.
  • STEM for Girls: Breezeline is supporting Code/Art’s annual coding festival and national coding competition, as well as regional coding clubs across the U.S. Code/Art is focused on closing the gender gap in technology by creating coding programs for girls in grades 3-12, inspiring girls to pursue computer science, and helping to change society’s view of what a coder looks like.
  • Promoting Tech Careers: The Interactive Case Competition challenges teams of graduate business students to solve real-life case studies pertaining to the cable industry. As the lead sponsor in the spring fall competitions, Breezeline senior leaders serve as judges and mentors, while sponsorship dollars go to the winning student teams as prize money to support their education. More than 40 percent of students go on to pursue tech careers.

“Breezeline is committed to using advanced technology to connect homes, education, health care, businesses and communities to everything that is important to them,” said Frank van der Post, President of Breezeline. “We know the tremendous benefits of online connectivity, but with this comes the responsibility to promote its right and safe use, while ensuring that all segments of our communities have access to connectivity in this digital age.”

Breezeline is committed each year to donating at least 1 percent of its pre-tax profits to community-based support. In its last fiscal year, Breezeline contributed more than $5 million in its support of community initiatives.

ABOUT BREEZELINE

Cogeco US, operating as Breezeline, a subsidiary of Cogeco Communications Inc. (TSX: CCA), is the eighth-largest cable operator in the United States. The company provides its residential and business customers with Internet, TV and Voice services in 12 states: Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Maine, Maryland, New Hampshire, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia. Cogeco Communications Inc. also operates in Québec and Ontario, in Canada, under the Cogeco Connexion name. Cogeco Inc.’s subsidiary, Cogeco Media, owns and operates 21 radio stations as well as a news agency serving audiences primarily in the province of Québec.

Contacts

Katherine McCoid 
Breezeline 
kmccoid@breezeline.com 
breezeline@kwtglobal.com

Human Development and Family Science professor to be recognized as Fellow in Gerontological Society of America

KINGSTON, R.I. — June 13, 2022 — Recognized for her “outstanding contributions to the field of gerontology,” Associate Professor of Human Development and Family Science Skye Leedahl is being inducted as a Fellow for the Gerontological Society of America (GSA), the nation’s largest interdisciplinary organization devoted to the field of aging.

Leedahl is being honored as a Fellow in two sections of the society — the Academy of Gerontology in Higher Education and Social Research, Policy, and Practice. Just 36 others from across the country will be recognized for 2022. Leedahl will be formally recognized during GSA’s Annual Scientific Meeting, which will be held Nov. 2-6 in Indianapolis, Indiana.

“I’ve been a member since I was a graduate student, and GSA quickly became my professional home where I found people who were really interested in the same research as me,” Leedahl said. “I always remember thinking how amazing the GSA fellows are; it was always something I was striving to become. And when I learned I was chosen, I was excited to reach this big goal of mine.”

GSA Fellows have attained peer recognition for “outstanding contributions to the field of gerontology and represent the highest class of GSA membership.” The distinction comes at varying points in a person’s career and is given for diverse activities that include research, teaching, administration, public service and practice.

Leedahl’s work is focused on improving quality of life and health for older adults at multiple levels. Her research fits within three themes: intergenerational programming and its impacts on ageism, interest in working with older adults, and digital inclusion and social connectedness for older adults; social integration and health for older adults; and state and community-level policy initiatives.

Among her most public projects is the URI Cyber-Seniors digiAGE Initiative — a partnership among the URI College of Health Sciences, the Rhode Island Office of Healthy Aging and Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island and RI Housing — which aims to increase digital literacy in older adults. Also known as “URI Cyber-Seniors,” the program has been supported by more than $500,00 in grant funding from such organizations as the Office of Healthy Aging, RI Housing and the van Beuren Charitable Foundation, among others. A pilot research study provided participants with smart devices like iPads, wireless internet hotspots, and the training they need to access online resources, work and meet remotely, and virtually communicate with family and friends. URI students and faculty members visit senior centers and senior housing complexes around the state, and provide continuing tech support and training at no cost to participants.

“Our team at URI is thrilled to offer this intergenerational program to improve digital inclusion among the older population, especially for older adults from areas hardest hit by the pandemic,” Leedahl has said. “We’re trying to make Rhode Island and URI a leader in the intergenerational technology research space. I think what we’re doing here is pretty unique, and we’ve been able to make it a sustainable program and take it statewide. So a next step is to complete research publications and disseminate the information to learn from our experience so we can help other states and universities do something similar.”

Cyber Seniors program looks to counter ‘digital injustice’

By Mary Byrne

Staff Writer

GREENFIELD — After watching “Cyber Seniors,” a documentary about a group of senior citizens navigating the digital world for the first time with the help of teenage mentors, Judy Raper wanted to find a way to bring a similar program to the region. 

“I think it was clear during the pandemic that older adults were struggling to connect because they’re not digital natives,” said Raper, associate dean of community engagement at Greenfield Community College. “I call it digital injustice; they weren’t able to access technology in the ways that people who grew up with it could.”

After watching the documentary, Raper called the producer to see how she could make the program happen locally. The program itself — Cyber Seniors — is global, and seniors can sign up through the online system to connect with a younger individual for technological assistance. 

“What I wanted to do was get some regional youth trained to make sure … (seniors) are assigned to youths in our region,” Raper said. 

To find potential volunteers, Raper said she reached out to area high schools, students at GCC, and to Dave Garappolo, youth and family director at Franklin County’s YMCA, who is working closely with Raper to make the program possible. 

Although her outreach didn’t result in as many individuals as she’d hoped, about 20 people are being trained to be volunteers for the program, she said, many of whom are involved in the Teen Leaders Club at the YMCA.

“It’s a natural fit, because we have a lot of seniors here,” explained Garappolo, who runs the Teen Leaders Club. “We’ve upgraded our online registration platform … and a lot of seniors have difficulty with that. We’re going to open up a service where teen leaders will be able to help senior members navigate the online platform, to register for classes and help with anything they need.”

Garappolo said the teens involved have completed three of the five training sessions, where they are learning how to work with senior citizens and the terminology to use. Once they’ve completed the training, they’ll be able to help seniors — virtually or in person — do everything from setting up a Wi-Fi connection to navigating their own social media pages.

To keep the program free to the public, Raper said Greenfield Community College will absorb the cost. So far, she has paid $1,000 from her budget to cover the cost of training, provided by Cyber Seniors. The entire program can cost up to $3,000 per year, depending on the features provided.

The launch of the Cyber Seniors program will take place at the YMCA at 451 Main St. on Thursday, May 7, at 11 a.m., where seniors will have a chance to learn more about the program and how they can sign up, as well as bring in any pieces of technology they have questions about. 

Prior to that, on Wednesday, March 30, at 4:30 p.m., the public is welcome to attend a free viewing of “Cyber Seniors” documentary at the Garden Cinemas, 361 Main St. 

Those who want to participate in the program at the YMCA are strongly encouraged to RSVP through the registration page on GCC’s website (gcc.mass.edu/events/cyber-seniors-launch/). Registration is not required for the March 30 film screening.

Reporter Mary Byrne can be reached at mbyrne@recorder.com or 413-930-4429. Twitter: @MaryEByrne

Niagara’s older residents encouraged to share stories for new regional initiative

BY CHAD ELLIS | MAR 1, 2022

PHOTO BY: BRETT JORDAN FROM UNSPLASH

Residents in the Niagara Region are being encouraged to submit and share their stories and life experiences on a weekly basis as part of a new regional initiative. These stories will be used to aid research that is being done locally on the impact that isolation has had on residents over the past two years.

This initiative, known as the Niagara Stories project, is the outcome of a collaboration between Cyber-Seniors Niagara and McMaster University, who will be completing the research component of the project.

Cyber-Seniors is a non-profit organization that teaches elderly residents how to utilise and engage with technology and social platforms. Young volunteers are given courses and educational exercises to assist in guiding these residents, and they serve as digital mentors for them. Senior residents who participate in the organization’s programs have access to technology training as well as opportunities to participate in projects that keep them socially connected and involved. 

Participants in the initiative will be able to meet virtually on Zoom each Thursday from now until September of this year between 6 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. to share and discuss their stories or life experiences. These stories do not have any precise criterion that must be met, and they can take any number of forms, once participants are comfortable sharing and do not divulge sensitive information.

Despite being open to anybody, the project’s focus is on giving older residents in particular the platform to share their stories. Those who tell their stories at the sessions will be able to receive responses from every other participant, if they so wish, which Cyber-Seniors Niagara believes will spark dialogue and make the region’s older residents feel more involved. Residents who choose to participate will be under no obligation to attend each and every meeting and may engage in the project at their leisure.

Aside from the possibility to share these stories, there are additional incentives for participants, particularly seniors. The initiative will provide a chance for these residents to gain a number of technical skills, which have become crucial to have as virtual spaces and platforms have become more widely used in recent years. 

At the same time, Cyber-Seniors Niagara is enlisting the assistance of student volunteers to become digital mentors to these seniors, which is the core purpose of Cyber-Seniors. Ideally, these youth volunteers, who have more technological experience than the senior residents, will help facilitate the sharing of their stories by teaching them how to use virtual meeting platforms or even assist the storytellers in sharing their stories through other creative mediums. 

The research that is being done during the course of the project is looking at how sharing these experiences affects the emotions of loneliness and isolation that many seniors describe feeling. McMaster’s research will also look into how people express their emotions via stories and verbally shared experiences.

While this study is certainly valuable, the major purpose of Cyber-Seniors Niagara in undertaking this joint endeavour with McMaster is the local community-building element that the initiative will provide. The organization hopes that the Niagara Stories initiative will benefit the region’s older residents in a variety of ways and will provide the groundwork for similar future endeavours. 

Those interested in participating or volunteering in the initiative are invited to phone 905 329 3124 or visit the Cyber-Seniors Niagara website.

Niagara Stories Project to explore storytelling and isolation

Partnership will promote sharing of stories and provide data for McMaster research

By Luke Edwards NiagaraThisWeek.com

Sunday, February 27, 2022

Everyone has a story, what’s yours?

A new project being run through a partnership of McMaster University, the Seniors’ Computer Lab Project, and Cyber-Seniors’ Connected Communities Niagara will give residents of Niagara a chance to share their stories, while at the same time providing valuable data for research being conducted on isolation and the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Our spheres have become so limited, even if we do try to be active, even if we do go out, you know, over the last two years, everybody’s circle has become much smaller,” said Nancy Siciliana, organizer for the Niagara Stories project.

The research component of the project is looking at the impact storytelling has on the feelings of isolation that have only been exacerbated by the pandemic. It will also study how people express this experience through language.

While that work is important, Siciliana said the local community building they’re hoping to accomplish is also important. In it, participants will be able to meet once a week and share stories. 

Siciliana said those stories can go in any number of directions, from how someone ended up in Niagara, to what the region was like years ago or specific memories from a person’s youth or childhood.

Siciliana believes everyone has something they could share.

“I really do think that we’re a lot more interesting than anything on television,” she said.

Those stories will be used by McMaster researchers in their study.

There will be other spin-off benefits as well, she said. Though open to anyone, the project is focusing on the stories of older adults. With the project, Siciliana said they can also teach tech skills to people in the region, skills that have become even more important during the pandemic.

At the same time, they’re also incorporating the help of students to become tech mentors. Younger, more technologically savvy people can help share the stories by teaching them how to use platforms like Zoom, or even help the storytellers share their stories through different media like podcasts or videos.

Each Thursday between 6 and 7:30 p.m. participants will be able to meet and discuss their stories.

“They’ll be able to present their stories and get feedback from every other participant, which will generate conversation, particularly if they’re writing about personal experiences of any kind,” Siciliana said, adding she hopes it stokes the flames of creativity and inspires more stories to be shared.

The meetings began last week and continue through the end of September. 

“You don’t have to come each and every meeting. If you’re inspired and you want to take part, jump in. You can start at any time. You can leave it any time. You can submit as many stories as you wish. And really, it’s about your life story,” she said.

For more information on the program or for seniors or students who’d like to get involved, contact Siciliana at nancy.siciliana@theseniorscomputerlab.org or call 905-329-3124. You can also visit cyberseniors.org/seniors-services. Even people without their own devices are encouraged to reach out, as Siciliana said they may be able to provide one.

Luke Edwards is a reporter for Niagara this Week, covering north Niagara, and editor for Niagara Farmers’ Monthly. You can follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

Cyber-Senior program topic at Kiwanis gathering

SAN MARCOS: Kiwanis hosts Cyber-Senior program coordinator

The Lake San Marcos Kiwanis Club hosted Chania Mitchell, program coordinator for nonprofit Cyber-Seniors, a nationwide program that has been providing seniors with technology training since 2015. Mitchell, a local Marine wife, described how the intergenerational, volunteer-based program works.
Young people receive lessons to serve as digital mentors and senior citizens receive free technology training for online tasks such as ordering groceries, scheduling medical appointments over video and using a smartphone. Cyber-Seniors established a partnership with the Best Buy teen tech center and the San Marcos Boys and Girls Club. From left, Cathy Baur, CEO of the San Marcos Boys & Girls Club and Kiwanis Club member with Chania Mitchell. For questions on the program, email CHANIA@cyberseniors.org.

(Photo by Jerry Mason. )

Cyber-Seniors keeps Niagara seniors connected

Intergenerational volunteer-based organization offers seniors toll free number for technology training and support

By Victoria Nicolaou staff reporter Fri., Jan. 28, 2022

Koby Vanyo first heard about Cyber Seniors at a conference she attended a few years ago.

Founded in 2015, the non-profit organization sounded interesting and beneficial, but St. Catharines didn’t have the finances available to fund a program dedicated to providing free technology support and training for senior citizens.

And more than that, Vanyo said there wasn’t the need.

Fast-forward a handful of years, add in a worldwide pandemic, and the demand for the program has drastically changed.

Last fall, Vanyo, programs supervisor for St. Catharines, said the city received a grant which enabled them to connect with Cyber-Seniors. In addition to the technology support the program provides, the funding allowed for the development of Niagara-focused virtual programming.

The organization offers technology training using a volunteer-based model, with young people offering lessons and learning activities to keep seniors socially connected and engaged.

Anyone experiencing technology troubles or requiring assistance can call Cyber Seniors toll free number and be connected with the necessary help.

“They have trained volunteers on the other end of the line who can walk you through setting up (a new cell phone) and getting connected to the internet and pointing you in the right direction,” said Vanyo.

Even those who are relatively well-versed in technology have found it beneficial. Vanyo said she has guided her 74-year-old mother – who can “do most things” when it comes to technology – to the toll free line and the service has been “a lifesaver.” “She loves talking to them and they walk her through her problems and fix it every time,” she said.

Cyber-Seniors takes care of all of the vetting and the training of all volunteers, including using students from Niagara College and Brock University to help locally.

With the grant, Vanyo said the Niagara program – called Cyber-Seniors: Connecting Generations – has created localized content, in addition to the virtual programming already offered, and helped to build local connection.

Anny Salcedo, training supervisor for the Niagara program, said local webinars have included presentations on how to use the Niagara Region Waste and NRT OnDemand apps, and COVID-19 related presentations to help find booster shot locations for seniors and offered assistance with printing or downloading enhanced vaccine receipt.

It also has a partnership with Niagara Folks Arts Centre, and hosts seminars on topics to help create awareness, such mental health and homelessness.

In the coming weeks, Salcedo said they have events focused on the history of Niagara and Pickleball.

“With the restrictions of COVID, it has been very challenging for the seniors to actually stay connected or active even, so this kind of give an opportunity for them to socialize with other people across their region,” she said.

The average attendance is anywhere from 10 to 20 people, depending on the webinar itself. Salcedo said it can be tough and “complicated sometimes” for seniors to get accustomed to going virtual.

“We try to encourage them, remind them that they are not alone, that they can count on us,” she said.

Senior centres in St. Catharines were limited in what it could offer membership when the pandemic first took hold, and Vanyo said outside a monthly newsletter and a bi-monthly phone call, they didn’t have any virtual programming available.

So now, with Cyber-Seniors as well as Senior Centre Without Walls – telephone-based program for seniors – “we can reach a wider audience” said Vanyo.

The program is just in its infancy stages in Niagara but they’ve had “some good uptake” so far and are looking to spread the word and grow.

“More and more people are learning about it, more and more people are giving it a try,” she said, especially as the country continues to deal with the ongoing pandemic.

“It’s been a very interesting offering that we can give to people and it’s been successful.”

The Cyber-Seniors toll free number, 1-844-217-3057, is free to the public. More information on the Connecting Generations can be found on its website: https://cyberseniors.org/niagara/

To join Seniors Without Walls participants can call 905 688 5600 ext.1554.

Fantastic Free Tech Support for Your Older Parent (or You)

Written By Laura Galbato

Hello, technical support… can I help you? I jokingly answer the phone this way when extended family members call me for help with their computers, tablets, or phones. My adults kids are astonished by this, as tech-savviness is relative. They think I’m a slow-moving Prius in the left lane of the information highway, even though I strive to be right on their bumper.

I think there is a go-to person in many families who provides ad hoc support when technical issues arise. I am always happy to do so, as I want family members to succeed at whatever they’re trying to accomplish and technology can be frustrating. Often I don’t know the answer, but a quick Google search yields clarity on solving a tech issue.

But I got to thinking about people who may not be tech savvy and don’t have a family member on speed dial. Or, what if family members are as confused as the person trying to learn or solve a specific issue? Even basic tasks like connecting to WiFi, attaching a photo to an email, and copying/pasting can send some into a rabbit hole of frustration, and Google searches may yield confusing guidance above one’s pay grade. Often the generational tech-knowledge contrast between older and younger is stark.

I did a bit of digging and discovered a fantastic organization called Cyber-Seniors. Founded in 2015, Cyber-Seniors was formed by the creators of the award-winning documentary film Cyber-Seniors. This non-profit organization bridges the digital divide and connects generations using technology. They provide free tech-training and ad hoc support for people 60 years and older, using an intergenerational volunteer model.

I interviewed Kascha Cassady, Co-Founder and Director of Digital Services at Cyber-Seniors, to learn more about this remarkable organization. It’s a helpful resource for our older parents and anyone needing tech help who meets their targeted age group.

North of 52: What is Cyber-Seniors’ model and focus?

Kascha Cassady: Cyber-Seniors connects tech-savvy high schoolers and university/college students with people 60 years and older (senior citizens) who need tech help and want to learn more about their computers, tablets, and phones. In our organization, high school and university/college students are provided with lessons and learning activities to train them to act as digital mentors. Senior citizens gain access to effective technology training and intergenerational communities that keep them socially connected and engaged. 

As seniors become more comfortable using technology in their daily lives, they find a welcoming intergenerational online community, that serves to increase their well-being and offers them safe opportunities to engage, while continuing to embrace technology. To accomplish this, we provide meaningful volunteer work for young people. Our model is cost effective, sustainable and benefits both seniors and young people.

North of 52: Who uses your services?

Kascha Cassady: Anyone 60 years or older can participate in our programs. We even have individuals in their 90s who benefit from our services.

North of 52: What services do you provide?

Kascha Cassady: We provide a wide range of services. Specifically:

  • Direct access to free telephone tech-support in three languages: English, Spanish and French.
  • Book ahead one-on-one tech support that can be provided over the phone or over any digital platform.
  • Daily technology webinars in English and Spanish.
  • Opportunities to participate in other online social programs like trivia night, meditation classes, book clubs, and more.
  • Access to hundreds of tech-training resources and self-paced tutorials.

North of 52: How do folks contact Cyber-Seniors?

Kascha Cassady: Individuals can go to our website, Cyber-Seniors.org, or call our toll free number at 1-844-217-3057. Our website lists all of our offerings, including tech webinars and social activities. There is even a place to book a one-on-one appointment. If someone isn’t comfortable with technology yet, we encourage them to call us.

North of 52: How does the phone help work?

Kascha Cassady: When seniors call between 9 am and 5 pm (EST) they are connected to a staff member. Depending on the difficulty of their tech issue or question, we can either help in the moment or book them an appointment with a volunteer. Appointments are booked for one hour. Sometimes it only takes 15 minutes and other times a volunteer will work for two hours in order to help solve the problem.

North of 52: What tech support is offered?

Kascha Cassady: We offer tech support for all types of devices, brands and platforms. All they have to do is indicate what type of technology they use, and we match them with a volunteer who is familiar with that same brand.

North of 52: What types of webinars do you offer?

Kascha Cassady: All kinds! There are daily webinars scheduled for a specific time, and hundreds of previous webinars that can be played anytime. Our topics run the technology gamut. Everything from Getting the Most from Your iPhone to Understanding Your Mac Computer Settings to How To Use Instagram to How To Listen to Podcasts. These webinars are wonderful because they allow us to provide instructive videos, presentations, web pages, and instruction.

North of 52: What’s the profile of your volunteers?

Kascha Cassady: Our volunteers are mainly high school and university students, but anyone who is tech savvy can volunteer. We offer a rewarding volunteer experience for individuals looking to make a difference. Volunteers acquire new skills while providing a valuable service to senior citizens who truly appreciate the help. Volunteer hours are documented, and digital badges and certificates are awarded. Students develop valuable work skills that give them a leg up when applying for a job or post-secondary school programs. And on top of all this, our volunteers have fun and enjoy helping people with technology.

North of 52: How many hours do volunteers work?

Kascha Cassady: Volunteers can work as much or as little as they want. During summers we often have teens volunteering several hours a day. During the school year, most volunteer a few hours each week. Our volunteers are able to see appointments and let us know which ones work with their schedule.

North of 52: Can you use the same volunteer for later appointments?

Kascha Cassady: Yes, individuals may request help from the same volunteer again. Many of our seniors have weekly reoccurring meetings with their favorite volunteer. The intergenerational bond that forms is quite special.

North of 52: Is there a cost?

Kascha Cassady: Our programs are 100% free for anyone 60 years or older.

North of 52: Where is Cyber-Seniors located?

Kascha Cassady: Cyber-Seniors is based in Toronto, but we have seniors and volunteers across North America.

Tech support for seniors

https://www.costcoconnection.ca/connectioncaeng/20211011/MobilePagedArticle.action?articleId=1727632#articleId1727632

The pandemic created an urgent need among seniors to learn how to use video-conferencing and social media tools

by CHRIS POWELL

In addition to a wide variety of tech products, Costco also offers its free Concierge tech-support service to Costco members who have purchased any of a variety of tech items from Costco warehouses or at Costco.ca.

The past 18 months led to the emergence of video-conferencing technologies like Zoom and FaceTime® to help people maintain contact with friends and loved ones, providing a crucial means of connectivity when physical contact wasn’t possible.

Like so much modern technology, however, it carries a risk that Canada’s older population—arguably the group most in need of such services—might be left behind.

Need for support

That point was acutely driven home to Daniel Marrello of Toronto during the early days of the pandemic, when he saw his grandparents, both in their early 80s, struggling to understand online tools like video conferencing and social media.

“It dawned on us how many other seniors don’t have access to resources to help them out,” says Marrello. “But it’s really just them having to get over the learning curve, and they can be just as proficient as everybody else.”

That led Marrello and his brother David to create TechServeTO (techserveto.com), a free online service that uses a volunteer group of about 175 tech-savvy millennials to provide support to seniors. Since launching in April, the service has provided assistance to 1,600, older Canadians.

Originally created to serve the Toronto market, its footprint has since grown to include Quebec, Vancouver and, more recently, Florida—a long-time winter haven for Canadian seniors.

Serving seniors

Ravinder Sandhu was having trouble printing some important documents on her networked printer when she came across a story about TechServeTO on a TV newscast. The Ottawa-area retiree and Costco member had been struggling to get help from her internet service provider and was growing increasingly desperate to find a solution.

“You call these big tech companies and you can’t even get them to answer the phone, let alone solve your problem,” she says. “So I thought, ‘What have I got to lose?’ At worst [TechServeTO] is going to say they’re not serving my area.”

She turned to the TechServeTO website and managed to secure a booking with a volunteer representative just two days later. During a 45-minute, one-on-one Zoom session, the TechServeTO representative patiently guided her through the steps to download the necessary software to fix the problem.

“When I think about that experience now, it makes me glow with warmth,” Sandhu tells the Connection. “I cannot think of a better example of someone putting their talents and skills to use, because this mostly affects seniors.”

She continues, “Our banking, grocery shopping and public services went online.

Imagine the frustration at the inability to get access to technical know-how. We can’t communicate without the internet and all of these gadgets.”

Meaningful mentors

The need for services of this kind has never been more acute, agrees Brenda Rusnak, managing director of Toronto-based Cyber-Seniors (cyberseniors.org). Launched in 2015 Cyber-Seniors (which arose out of an award-winning documentary of the same name) trains younger volunteers to act as so-called “tech mentors” for seniors.

The past year has been particularly busy, with Rusnak saying that Cyber-Seniors has trained about 2000 young Canadians who have provided tech assistance to more than 10,000 seniors across Canada and the U.S. According to Rusnak, people between the ages of 65 and 74 represent the largest portion of Cyber-Seniors’ user base (39%), followed by those age 75 to 84 (26%) and those age 55 to 64 (14%).

“We started off with a primary goal of addressing social isolation among older adults,” Rusnak tells the Connection. “And when COVID hit, it became more evident that [videoconferencing] is a means of communication seniors have to have.”

Chris Powell is a Toronto-based journalist.

Youth to bring seniors and technology together in St Catharines

by Don Redmond on August 3, 2021

Anyone with elderly parents or grandparents knows the struggles of trying to set them up with a laptop or desktop computer. The simple fact is they are often afraid of technology.

Given that the internet has really only been around for 20 or so years, it’s a skill that many seniors simply never bothered to learn.

The City of St Catharines is hoping to bridge the gap between seniors and technology, partnering with a non-profit organization to help eliminate the digital divide by providing older adults technology training, using an intergenerational volunteer model.

In cooperation with Cyber-Seniors, the City will connect seniors with digital mentors for technology training, with the aim of heightening their cyber skill, allowing them to keep socially connected and engaged, while also forging a unique connection with youth volunteers. The City’s program is set to launch on August 9.

“Cyber-Seniors is a great way to help older adults get connected and feel more comfortable with the Internet,” said Koby Vanyo, programs supervisor for the City of St. Catharines.

“As we’ve seen during the pandemic, online access also became essential to stay informed and helped individuals feel socially connected while still safe and independent.”

Indeed, the pandemic was likely the hardest on seniors without internet skills as they were more isolated from their friends than ever.

While at this time, the program will be delivered virtually, and residents will have to rely on using their own devices (a smartphone, tablet or laptop will work) and Internet connection, long term, the goal will be for the City’s Older Adult Centres to offer access to technology and provide in-person training on laptops, tablets and other devices.

For more information on Cyber-Seniors, including how to connect with a mentor and more on the programs and services, visit https://cyberseniors.org/niagara.