Emma Thompson, 18, of West Des Moines, Iowa, a senior at Valley High School, has helped more than 60 senior citizens in her area learn to use their computers and phones more effectively through her student-led volunteer program, “Teen Electronics & Cyber Help for Seniors” (TECHS). When Emma’s grandparents have a technology problem, they go to her. They’re usually about important functions like managing apps, determining how much data they’ve used, setting up WiFi connections and transferring and updating contacts, said Emma. Realizing that her grandparent’s weren’t alone in dealing with this situation, Emma decided to start an initiative to help others in their shoes by offering technology help at senior living communities, with a nonjudgmental approach where no tech problem is too small to solve. Due to COVID-19, the program shifted gears to comply with local regulations.
Realizing that during the pandemic it was more important than ever for seniors to stay connected with the outside world, Emma designed a website, contacted four school districts to recruit student volunteers, developed a training program for them and developed promotional materials, which she delivered to senior facilities. To comply with COVID-19 restrictions around in-person visits, Emma addressed the most common tech problems on a YouTube video and a Facebook page. Volunteers met virtually with seniors and, in some cases, were able to meet outdoors in socially distanced events. Since she started, Emma’s 32 student volunteers have solved more than 180 technology problems for senior citizens in her community. “Often people give up on learning how to use their device to the fullest because of the frustration and lack of help,” Emma said. “TECHS strives to clarify those bothersome questions to help [seniors] maximize the usefulness of [their] device so [they] can better connect to [their] family and friends.”