Waaaaay back when I started working at my library, my colleague Kate Sheehan and I talked about a program she had been meaning to try. We moved it to the back burner for many months, but this summer, we were able to get the planning process going, and the program began this fall.

We called it Juniors Helping Seniors, and here’s what it is: teens aged 13-18 tutor seniors (well, they don’t technically have to be senior citizens–they can really be adults of any age,’  but the name is cute) on how to use a computer. The program is really geared toward adults who have little to no experience using a computer–this program isn’t for people interested in getting help concatenating spreadsheets, but rather for people who aren’t great at using a mouse, or downloading attachments from their email, or searching for information using Google.

I totally recommend organizing a program like this in your library, simply because it’s been working very well for us so far. If you’re interested, here’s how we did it.

The first thing I did was visit the high school volunteer fair. It was so great–in fact, most of the contacts I’ve made with teens came out of that event. I got kids to sign up for the Teen Advisory Board there, too. But there were definitely some who were specifically interested in Juniors Helping Seniors. I can’t really say why, except that teens in Darien seem very focused on community service; it’s valued in this town.

Kate and I reached out to the teens first, because without them, we didn’t have a program. Of all the teens who were interested, ten of them followed through. We planned two hour-long training sessions (they could choose which time slot to attend; there was only one hour worth of training per kid). In the training sessions, we basically talked about patience. Digital natives might have a hard time understanding the difficulty others can have with simple technology tasks. We told them about mousercise and how to explain the difference between a Gmail text ad and an actual email. But these were just examples of some of the things that seniors could ask about–essentially, we taught the teens how to break things down and take it slow.

Once the teens were trained, we called the seniors who were interested. To publicize the program, we made up flyers, put a post on the library website, and visited the senior center. Then I figured out when the seniors were free, when the teens were free, and started matching people up. It is an hour-long commitment, once a month. The junior/senior pair comes to the library and uses one of our computers, and the senior brings any questions they might have. I did sort of pre-screen over the phone to find out what the seniors were interested in to make sure that no one was going to be asking questions about stuff that a teen couldn’t address. So far, most questions are about using email, Word, and the internet.

We got off to a false start because on Sunday, the teen came in but not the senior, and it was disappointing all around. But then! Today! Two pairs were scheduled for 4 o’clock, and everyone showed, and it was AWESOME. The teens were so patient and friendly, and the seniors were so grateful. It was the perfect match, because there was no time crunch, no line of people waiting at the help desk, and the teens could focus all their attention on their “student.” The two boys who were here today were just great, and they even offered to come in again next week, which is above and beyond the commitment we asked of them.

Really, it’s been so cool, and one of the more successful programs we’ve done here for teens thus far. If you’re interested in starting a program like this at your library and you have questions or want any more information, please feel free to email me! (sludwig@darienlibrary.org)

About Sarah Ludwig

I am the Academic Technology Coordinator at Hamden Hall Country Day School in Hamden, CT. Prior to that, I was the head of teen, technology, and reference services at the Darien Library in Darien, CT. I started my library career as a school librarian at a small boarding school in Western Massachusetts.

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