Emma Thompson, 17, 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 basic but important functions like managing apps, determining how much data they’ve used, setting up WiFi connections and transferring and updating contacts, said Emma. “Although these are simple problems for me to fix and teach them to do, they are quite difficult for my grandparents and very frustrating.” So when a local retirement center needed help supporting residents in using their devices, Emma stepped up. 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 26 student volunteers have solved more than 170 technology problems for senior citizens in her community.