Teen Sisters Idea To Mentor Seniors About The Internet Goes Big

By Jordan Adler 12/13/13 | www.samaritanmag.com

Cyber-Seniors volunteer Henri (left) teaches Ellard how to use Skype.
Are your grandparents or elderly parents online? Do they know how to send emails and attach photos?  Do they need helping surfing the ‘net? Do they even know what that means? Toronto sisters Kascha and Macaulee Cassaday are behind Cyber-Seniors, a yearlong campaign targeting 82 cities in North America that invites youths to mentor seniors about the Internet.

The initiative began after the sisters saw how the Internet transformed their grandparents’ lives.

“We got them on Skype because we have a little cousin who lives in Ireland who my grandparents aren’t able to see very often,” Kascha tells Samaritanmag. “Getting them on Skype allowed them to go to all of his piano recitals and be at all his soccer games — being there for every milestone that they were able to do for us but not for him.

“Being able to see them communicate with us and other family members and seeing the joy that it brought them made us want to reach out and give other seniors the opportunity to get online and to explore this new world.”

The sisters began the community service project at their high school in 2009 when they were teenagers. They wanted to bring student mentors into retirement homes and teach senior citizens how to use computers and the Internet.

As part of this project, Kascha and Macaulee created a training manual and recruited some of their friends to go to local retirement homes twice a week. Many of the seniors had never used the Internet or knew how to turn on a computer. As the 80- to 90-year-olds learned how to use Facebook, Skype, YouTube, email and online banking, many of them were then able to connect with family and old friends.

“There’s a huge gap between technology and seniors. Technology has advanced so much so quickly that unless you were born right in the midst of it and grew up learning and figuring it out all on your own, you really have this gap,” says Cassaday, now a student of broadcast journalism at Ryerson University. “Especially for seniors who didn’t work in a work force where you required a computer, they have no idea what’s going on or what the Internet can provide for them.”

The Cassadays - (L to R) Macaulee, Kascha and Saffron Cassaday.
Due to the popularity of Cyber-Seniors, the sisters began a contest on YouTube for the youth mentors to film clips about the seniors and one of their specialties or interests. The warm and hilarious short films, which show off their cooking and gardening skills, as well as their wisdom, can be found on the Cyber-Seniors Corner channel on YouTube.

These connections between teens and seniors inspired the Cassadays’ older sister, filmmaker Saffron Cassaday, to make a documentary about the bonds made through this program. Over the next year, the film will screen for audiences to raise awareness for the Cyber-Seniors campaign.

Although its co-founders are now at university, they are still involved with creative decision-making. The Best Part Inc., which now runs the campaign, is collaborating with students and seniors’ groups across North America over the next year, 2014 – International Year of the Family. The company wants to enable at least 1 million senior citizens to use their program.

Through Cyber-Seniors, teens can get community service credits by teaching a grandparent or senior online skills. Youths can download a teaching guide from the website to help direct their lessons, as well as a community service log sheet. Also, any retirement home or high school will be able to adopt the program, Cassaday says.

“As people get older, it’s harder for them to get outside and get involved in their community because they’re less mobile, their family is far away,” Cassaday says. “The Internet really provides something that brings them back into the community and gives them more access to do what they love.”

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* Samaritanmag.com is an online magazine covering the good deeds of individuals, charities and businesses.