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Group text: County's youth council shares computer skills with Northdale seniors

Steinbrenner High School sophomore Jordyn Dees, left, and Steinbrenner junior Katie Diskin, middle, give computer assistance to Helene Murray at the Northdale Recreation Center. JOEY JOHNSTON | Special to the Times
Steinbrenner High School sophomore Jordyn Dees, left, and Steinbrenner junior Katie Diskin, middle, give computer assistance to Helene Murray at the Northdale Recreation Center. JOEY JOHNSTON | Special to the Times
Published Feb. 16, 2018

NORTHDALE — Students with the Hillsborough County Youth Leadership Council are working to bridge the technology generation gap by teaching computer skills to senior citizens.

"We're just sharing what we know, things that come naturally to us,'' said Steinbrenner High School senior Hannah Diskin, who had the idea of technology workshops for seniors when seeking a project in her AP Research course. "I always wondered if (seniors) just weren't that interested (in technology), but in looking into it, I found that it was more of a hesitancy because they needed to be shown how to do certain things.

"Kids our age, we grew up with technology. Twenty or 30 years from now, I bet our kids will need to teach us things, too. So this is a way to give back. It's really nice to see everyone's confidence grow. This is useful information for all of them.''

Most of the seniors belong to a Northdale Recreation Center group known as the OWLS (Older Wiser Lively Seniors), but the workshops are open to all.

Some of the topics during the one-on-one instruction:

* How to set up a Facebook account.

* How to take and send photos with an iPhone.

* How to navigate YouTube.

* How to send group text messages.

* How to communicate through social media.

* How to find the best apps.

"This has been an excellent program,'' said Jane Maher, 82. "If you go to the Apple store, you get 10 minutes with what they call a 'genius.' But sometimes, it's hard to follow what the genius is saying. And when the 10 minutes is up, that's it.

"The technology today can be mind-boggling. But it's not intimidating in this kind of environment. You can ask questions and they will show you. I have learned a lot and now I'll be able to do more things.''

OWLS member Herbert White, 80, is a retired educator who taught high-school English and Spanish in Brooklyn, N.Y. He sees technology as a way to feed his intellectual curiosity.

"If there is a Shakespearean soliloquy I want to capture or a quotation — 'Neither a borrower nor a lender be' — how can I find it?'' White said while working with Aniruth Narayanan, a sophomore from King High School.

Narayanan pointed out that a simple Google search — or a trip through YouTube — can uncover just about any reference from literature.

"This is kind of a miracle,'' White said. "In my day, we had to memorize everything or go to the library and research for hours or weeks. With this kind of technology, the world opens up for you.

"You have the lens to search for anything. It's like me trying to search for the holy grail or the ultimate truth. The young people are very fortunate to have access to this. And I am fortunate, too. I have a computer and a cell phone, but things keep changing. These sessions help me to stay updated and learn new things. It gives me a lot more confidence.''

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The 18-member Hillsborough County Youth Leadership Council, which is always seeking community service projects, hopes to continue its workshops and widen the base of interested seniors as word gets out about the program.

It was a natural connection for Hillsborough County recreation center leaders, who heard from seniors that wanted to learn more about modern communication methods to use with family and friends. Now they are learning how to maximize all of their electronic devices.

"I think this is a nice way to help in the community and make sure that no one gets left behind,'' said Jordyn Dees, a Steinbrenner sophomore. "Some of the (seniors), they have no one to help them and their kids might not live nearby. They need people to put it into (understandable) terms and answer questions.

"Once we start with someone and they get more comfortable, they start asking more questions. They benefit from the one-on-one time and somebody being patient with them. It's really nice to see them learn new skills and take advantage of the technology.''

Helene Murray used a computer in her work, but has fallen behind the learning curve since retiring. And now — thanks to the workshops — she feels up to speed.

"I appreciate this opportunity and meeting all these nice, helpful young people,'' Murray said. "I've written everything down and practiced, so hopefully I won't get stuck again. This is so much better than having to search for an answer or calling someone and having them charge you. These young people are doing an incredible service for us.''

Contact Joey Johnston at hillsnews@tampabay.com.