Cyber Seniors program looks to counter ‘digital injustice’
By Mary Byrne
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or 413-930-4429. Twitter: @MaryEByrne