After four months of remote technology lessons and connecting aging adults with devices like laptops and tech help, the Boulder-based nonprofit Tech Pals is ready to resume one-on-one lessons with seniors.
Tech Pals, which launched shortly before the coronavirus brought everyday life to a halt in March, works with local senior centers and technology-focused organizations to reduce isolation among seniors and enrich their independence and quality of life through tech education.
During the past few months, the nonprofit’s operations have expanded to include Spanish volunteers, through a partnership with Age Guide — a Chicago-based nonprofit that won a grant to purchase 180 Android tablets and distribute them to seniors without access to technology — that will hopefully lead to a similar program in Boulder County, and a variety of new masterclasses at the Longmont Senior Center.
Most of Tech Pals’ services remain virtual, such as game nights, masterclasses and weekly drop-in tech help, but not everything can be done over Zoom.
“We still highly recommend online but for clients who need more hands-on help, we decided to take everything back to in person,” said Tech Pals Co-founder Joshua Merriman.
The in-person lessons come with disinfectant, masks, gloves and social distancing.
During the months when Tech Pals was unable to meet with clients face-to-face, volunteers were able to connect seniors with family and friends through Zoom, FaceTime and Google Duo, including a 92-year-old woman who was able to virtually celebrate her birthday with her family.
The nonprofit also sold laptops with services such as Google Duo pre-installed to local seniors, including to a blind man who worked with a volunteer to navigate his new computer.
But the biggest change in Tech Pals is its work with Age Guide, Merriman said.
As it works with Age Guide to educate seniors on how to use their new devices, Tech Pals is hoping to work with the Boulder County Area Agency on Aging, which recently submitted a proposal to bring technology education services to seniors. Tech Pals also would partner with local libraries and churches to make education and devices more accessible.
If approved, Boulder County’s program would look similar to Chicago’s.
Students would have access to three 90-minute classes ranging from basic functions of devices to YouTube to health apps. The program would be open to anyone 65 and older. Before getting their device, seniors would have to take a 20-question quiz placing them on the UCLA Loneliness Scale, which is used to measure a person’s feelings of loneliness and social isolation, and have a phone interview with a Tech Pals volunteer.
“What would happen is we would assess their needs, look at these and then also do a phone interview to see whether they know any kind of tech,” said Tech Pals Co-founder Leah Baum.
Technology can be a difficult thing to grasp, and students sometimes become frustrated with a slow internet connection or a confusing app, Merriman said. Tech Pals uses the words of Dolly Parton to motivate its students.
“We tell them, ‘If you want the rainbow, you gotta put up with the rain,’” Merriman said. “It really helps them. We think we have a lot of patience but at the same time these devices teach us to be patient.”Tech Pals volunteers can be reached for their weekly drop-in tech help sessions through the Longmont Senior Center from 2 to 3 p.m. Fridays. They also participate in the Senior Center’s game nights from 1 to 2 p.m. Thursdays. Links to the Zoom meetings for both these events can be found here. Tech Pals will host a masterclass on Samsung health apps at 10 a.m. Oct. 8 and one on online libraries at 10 a.m. Nov. 12. Both events are virtual and anyone interested can register here for free. More registration information is available in the Longmont Go catalog.