By CAROLYN LUCAS-ZENK
Stephens Media Hawaii
When 72-year-old Waimea resident Linda Mendonca received an iPad for Christmas, nothing about it was familiar.
She knew this new high-tech gift would be useful, but wasn’t quite sure how. Instead of trying to figure out the gadget by herself, she turned to Teen Tech Tutors for instruction. This inexpensive program is helping local seniors learn skills pertaining to smartphones, tablets and computers.
During her first lesson Sunday, Mendonca mastered Internet searches, as well as writing and sending short messages. She also learned what apps are, how they can enhance certain aspects of her life, and how to download them. But what Mendonca was most excited about was having the ability to use her iPad to scan in, organize and view sheet music she has collected over the years from playing ukulele. This means she no longer has to carry heavy binders of music anymore, if she doesn’t want to.
Teen Tech Tutors is offered every other Sunday from 10:45 a.m. to 12:45 p.m. at St. James’ Episcopal Church in Waimea.
The technology experts are 10 teens who attend Hawaii Preparatory Academy, Parker School, Honokaa High School and Kamehameha Schools. All possess an enthusiasm for technology and are comfortable with gadgetry. They’re also passionate about giving back to their community, as well as teaching important aspects of computing to a population that’s not too familiar about technology.
The teens work one-on-one with the seniors so each person can learn at his or her own speed. Several seniors said it’s a more personal approach — one that allows you to ask a question without feeling overshadowed by another student or that it’s a silly question. They repeatedly described the teens as sweet, patient, kind, smart and very tech-savvy.
The tutoring is on everything from learning Facebook and Skype to using a writing program, storing photos, downloading music or books, connecting to wireless networks and sending text messages.
Most of the teens said the program is helping seniors overcome their apprehension about technology, gain new confidence in this fast-moving digital age, and feel skillful enough to use their gadgets. The teens have also found they’re learning valuable skills, including leadership, communication, critical thinking, problem solving and patience. Other unexpected rewards have been the friendships formed between the teens and seniors, as well as those between the teens that go to different schools.
Waimea resident Eita Kawakami, 17, wanted to be involved with the program because he enjoys doing community service and felt like he could help seniors who feel challenged or overwhelmed by new technology. After all, he’s been using computer and digital technology throughout his life and thinks he’s pretty good at it.
While technology can be used for different things, Kawakami said he gets tremendous satisfaction showing seniors how to use it to keep in touch with loved ones and their community. He thinks it’s important kupuna stay connected with the world around them.
Teen Tech Tutors president Tali Patolo, 17, got the idea for the program while helping his mother, Deacon Ritterbush, learn how to use her iPhone and teaching Aunty Edi Bertlemann new skills on her computer. He realized that if they needed help, others probably did, too.
Patolo started Teen Tech Tutors with vice president Ryan Fitzgerald about a year ago. The targeted clients are those age 60 and older, but the teens said they’re willing to work with any adult with technology questions and a willingness to learn.
For awhile, the program was offered for free every Sunday. The training is now provided twice a month for a suggested $5 donation and tips are welcome. The collected funds go toward group field trips or causes the teens care about, such as Heifer International, a charity working to end hunger and poverty.
Teen Tech Tutors is grateful for the ongoing support from St. James’ Episcopal Church, which is allowing the group to use one of its buildings for free.
Father David Stout said the church is thrilled to have this program, which is helping transform the world through acts of kindness. He especially likes how it allows teens to use their gifts and skills to help kupuna. He also likes the bonding experiences the program has created between both generations.
Teen Tech Tutors has plans for expansion. In particular, the group would like to offer technology consulting services at senior housing complexes, community centers and to interested senior groups. They would consider traveling outside of Waimea so long as the interested group will cover the cost of gas, Ritterbush said.
To attend Teen Tech Tutors in Waimea, reserve a slot or just drop by. For more information, call parent Marilyn Fitzgerald at 345-6266 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Email Carolyn Lucas-Zenk at email@example.com.