Columbia teens teach seniors tech tricks

Sherry Schneider's husband wants to give her a gift, but she's not sure how she feels about it.

"My husband is threatening to give me his iPad, and I have no clue what to do with it," said Schneider, a Columbia resident.

With help from a group of local Columbia teens from the Columbia Association's Youth and Teen Center at the Barn, Schneider doesn't need to fret any longer.

The Youth and Teen Center, in partnership with the 50+ Center at the East Columbia Branch of the Howard County Library System, has put together a free program to help Schneider and other less tech-savvy older adults learn new technologies.

The program has been held every other Tuesday since January. Meridy McCague, director of the 50+ Center, said the program was created through a partnership between the two groups after the 50+ Senior Center received a donation of several iPads.

"We got these iPads, but we realized we didn't really know how to use them," said McCague.

Safire Windley, coordinator of the Youth and Teen Center, and the local teens stepped in.

"The vision and mission of the Youth and Teen Center is to create a safe haven for young people while also providing them enrichment; this is part of the enrichment," Windley said.

The program has since grown to not only include iPads, but tutorials on using other tablets and devices such as smartphones, iPods and cameras. Windley said the partnership was a natural because the technology comes so easily to the teens.

Since the program began, it has helped more than 80 older adults, according to Windley. Counted among those is Ed Guth, an Oakland Mills resident who attended the session for the first time Tuesday, June 17. Guth said it took him only 30 to 40 minutes before he started feeling comfortable with the technology.

"I've gone from someone who might consider [buying a tablet] in the distant future to someone who is familiar now with all the functions that I would want to use," he said. "I have no barrier between myself and actually doing something with an iPad, and that's a useful thing."

Guth applauded the teens' knowledge and capacity to instruct.

"It's good to see that these youngsters not only have use of the technology, but they can explain it," he said. "That's important."

Jubril Bello, a rising senior at Oakland Mills High School, is one of the 10 to 15 teens who volunteer. Bello said understanding how to use the technology can help improve quality of life.

"We grew up with these kinds of technologies, so we are teaching them and helping them make life easier," he said.

Tineia Douglas, an eighth-grader at Oakland Mills Middle School, said she can empathize with those seeking assistance.

"I feel like if I didn't know how to use the things I had — the technology I had — I would want someone to be there to help me understand it," she said. "People use technology in their everyday lives, so if you don't know how to use it, it's pretty hard."

Mary Stafford, a Columbia resident, said she was grateful for the teens' willingness to help.

"They know what they are doing.... and they are patient when they are doing it," Stafford said. "They are tremendous; they truly are."

Stafford added that the June 17 session was her second time attending the program, and that after two visits she feels confident in her ability to use the device.

"The first time I learned what it could do, got a sense of it and got scared half to death," she said. "I came back [June 17] and feel wonderful, at least using the things I have to use."

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