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Tech savvy program puts seniors and students together to share skills

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Marist College Penshurst students help seniors navigate our digital world. Photo: Alphonsus Fok.

They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks … just don’t tell 87-year-old Shirley Payne.

The fiercely independent senior, who of the generation who assumed Google was a sound a baby makes, has joined the digital world courtesy of the Year 11 students at Marist Catholic College at Penshurst.

The intergenerational program brings teenagers together with older Australians to help build confidence online.

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Not only are the young mentors happy to give up their Thursday afternoons of sport and study, there’s a waiting list to join the program.

Once a month, Shirley meets up with 16-year-olds Josh Nurtjahja and Paige Melanie to talk all things tech, but stresses they have all connected in a way far beyond the capabilities of hand-held devices.

She said she has learnt tolerance and open-mindedness while the “tweeniors” have discovered valuable lessons in patience and listening.

“It’s wonderful spending time with young people, it really lifts my spirits and something I very much look forward to,” Shirley beamed.

“I want to stay up to date with technology, but my family are just so busy they don’t have time to sit down and show me how.

“I always come prepared with a list of things I need help with and so far I have learnt how to edit photos, create playlists and transfer photos from my phone to my laptop.

“But just as importantly I have also learnt how lovely, caring, and patient young people are.

“I live on my own so getting to spend quality time with them really is so special, I just wish it happened more often.”

Student Paige Melanie agrees she has not only taught but also learnt from the program.

The aspiring trauma surgeon said she has been given the rare opportunity to see life from someone else’s perspective.

“I have a real interest in helping people and taking time out once a month to participate in the program has taught me some very valuable lessons,” she said.

“Old people really aren’t that different to us. We actually think a lot of the same things we just express it differently.

“I don’t get to spend much time with older people so giving up my sport/study time once a month is a very small sacrifice compared to what I get in return.

“I think young people take for granted that they were born in a digital age and that technology doesn’t come naturally to everyone.

“We have a skill not afforded to older people so why wouldn’t you want to teach them how to navigate the world online?”

Designed to build relationships between the ages, the Tech Savvy Seniors program was established by St Declan’s Parish Coordinator of the Ministry for the Sick and Elderly, Nellie Doueihi, who became increasingly aware of the challenges faced by seniors as life moves online.

“The intergenerational learning experience is really remarkable and that’s why I always say the main service we provide is not tech support, it’s human connection,” she said.

“Our Parish Mission is bringing the love of God to life in people. How better to have this happen for our older parishioners and younger students than bringing the generations together to share life and time?

“So many of our seniors have little confidence using their phones, are anxious about phone security and being hacked which made it very difficult for them when so much of our life today is on our phones.

“QR codes, digital vaccination certificates, accessing the parish website and even reading the weekly bulletin is on email on phones.

“When I started the classes late last year, I only had five people attend which I could manage on my ow. But as word got out around the parish I had 20-30 people come along so I enlisted the students from Marist College and it’s been a match made in heaven.

“The students have digital skills, a desire to connect and I thought could benefit from listening to the stories and wisdom of the older generation.

“To be honest the program has been such a success we are hoping to make it a weekly thing in the future.”

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