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.

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