Generations Helping Generations

By Jessica Edgar,
Prime Time News ~

Growing up, I didn’t have devices. There were no smart phones or watches and home computers were an extreme luxury. Our timer was the street lights and you went to your friend’s house to see what they were up to. I am reminiscing about the old days, or the simpler times, but I also appreciate the advantages of technology. We got our first PC when I was in high school. My junior year. All it had was Word, Excel, and the game of Solitaire. I was 25 when I purchased my first flip phone. I was moving from Pennsylvania to Colorado and my mom thought it would be a good idea to have one in case something happened on the road.

I am now in my early 40’s with a smart phone, Alexa, smart tv’s, laptops, and a thermostat and sprinkler system that run from my phone. I also have two young daughters who have never known a world without smart technology. They have their own laptops for school and IPads they play games on and communicate with family and friends. I have quickly adapted from my childhood of rotary phones to being able to order groceries from my phone. My girls at the ripe old ages of 8 and 11 have helped more then I like to admit, but this is the world they are used to and it’s quite amazing. 

Technology has brought the world closer in so many ways I am sure you know by now. I have had the luxury of learning through jobs and help from my husband and kids on how to use our devices. But some older adults are not as lucky. It’s a great idea giving Pappy an IPad for his birthday so you can Facetime each other and send pictures of the kids, but what many of us don’t realize is that Pappy has no idea how to even turn the IPad on. And since so many families live states away from each other, it’s difficult to help with even the simplest of tasks on a device.

Enter Matt Isola, a University of Colorado graduate who was helping out his Pap’s friend, Ted. Ted was gifted an IPad Pro and had no idea how to use it. Matt spent a few hours with him showing the features and functions of his new toy. As you could imagine, it wasn’t all smiles and laughs. But by the end of their time together, Ted was able to connect to his family with Facetime and it changed his life. This was Matt’s inspiration in creating Generation Exchange.

Matt began holding workshops that grouped students with older adults as part of his Master’s Degree program. A fellow named Leslie Getty had attended a workshop with his mother after he realized she struggled with technology. Impressed by Matt’s concept, the two came together in April of 2018 and Generation Exchange was born.

Generation Exchange connects students and older adults in order to exchange knowledge and understanding about technology while creating new connections of engagement, purpose, and leadership between generations. 

Generation Exchange is an organization built on three beliefs: 

1) We believe that technology should be easy and accessible for everyone: no one left behind, no exceptions; 

2) We believe our rapid technological evolution has created a generation gap, to the detriment of all age groups. This gap disempowers and isolates older generations, while it creates barriers for younger generations to connect with the wealth of insight and experience older generations have to offer them; and, 

3) We believe technology has the power to dramatically enhance the lives of older generations, and reconnect them as a resource to the larger community. 

Generation Exchange currently acts on these three beliefs by holding free workshops that connect younger volunteers with older adults in order to share digital technology knowledge and experience while fostering greater confidence. Younger volunteers (Mentors) are paired one-on-one with older adults (Mentees) to answer their questions about devices such as phones, laptops, and tablets. There is never a curriculum, but rather Mentees are expected to come with their collection of questions. Mentors are trained to let these questions drive the coaching, and all participants are encouraged to begin with conversations sharing personal experiences rather than directly discussing technology. 

The seeming perception that older adults can’t or won’t undertake digital literacy is costing us all: as one college volunteer expressed: “Who decided we can’t have 75-year-old software developers?” We have been repeatedly inspired by our older participants’ transformations from lacking confidence to “ready to learn something new” and enjoying “going into the unknown.” Generation Exchange helps reframe the “Aging of America” from a problem to be solved to an untapped resource willing and able to give back and offer support to younger generations and to society at large. 1

Among the many Mentors that volunteer for Generation Exchange, I had the pleasure of meeting Quinn Burns. As someone had mentioned to me about talking with Quinn, I have the utmost confidence that the future will be in great hands. As a high school student, she not only volunteers with Generation Exchange, she volunteers with other groups similar to GE and mentors middle school girls to empower themselves through technology with a group called TechGirlz. Quinn plans on majoring in Computer Science in college. She has already began her work through IBM Watson working with Artificial Intelligence and creating chat bots for local pediatricians.

Through being a Mentor, Quinn has been able to meet wonderful Mentees that have shared some perspective and experience from their lives. She also was able to work on her French skills when a Mentee, Jeanette was paired with her. Jeanette shared stories of her European background and learned some tech tips from Quinn. 

Now that we are slowly beginning to return to some form of normalcy, Matt and Leslie are hoping to pursue expansion to other universities and to other states. Since COVID, as with a majority of things, Generation Exchange went virtual. Along with getting back to in-person workshops, they hope to continue their expansion with online workshops as well. 

Please take a look at their website, www.generationexchange.org to find out more information about their program. You can also call, (720)-443-2223 or email isola@generationexchange.org

1Paragraphs 6-12 are from Generation Exchange website. Please check out the website for more content: www.geerationexchange.org

Matt Isola: Cofounder of Generation Exchange; Also runs Independent Tech Support from his home office. (720)443-2223 or Isola@generationexchange.org

Quinn Burns: High School student, volunteer extradornaire, Future in great hands

Anne Fiest: I owe her a great Thank You for reaching out and introducing me to those extraordinary people.

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