Outreach program helps seniors connect during a lonely season

A community outreach program started before the pandemic is proving to make a big difference for residents of one local retirement community. Team 2410 The Metal Mustangs offered open “Tech Talk Hours” to residents of Tallgrass Creek in Overland Park, Kan., to help with tasks like setting up a Facebook account, signing up for email or adjusting phone settings.

When the program began, the team had no idea how important these skills would become for residents eager to stay connected with their family and friends during the pandemic.

Lead Mentor and Team Coach Carrie Powell said the team dedicated two to three hours each Saturday plus holidays during the school year to the project. Soon they had a loyal following, with residents often lining up for each session.

The lessons varied. One team member spent three hours transferring and organizing photos for a resident who had inadvertently duplicated her saved photos five or six times. Together the two worked through hundreds of photos, saving or deleting as dictated by the resident, ending with an organized photo file and a better understanding of how to move photos from a phone to a laptop.

Other tasks including trouble shooting Alexa devices and helping with common issues with mobile phones: adjusting font sizes, connecting names with phone numbers in a contact list, teaching how to add photos to text messages.

Powell says one of her favorite recollections is from watching a student teach a soft-spoken lady how to Face Time ahead of the birth of her first great grandchild.

Tallgrass Creek residents had good things to say about the program. Here’s a sampling:

“I’ve had this iPad sitting in a box for 10 months. It was a Christmas gift from my son. I was too embarrassed to tell him that I didn’t know how to use it. Now, thanks to your students I actually can use it and I love it! I take it with me everywhere I go. I’ve gone to every single session your group had. Each time I learn something new. I’m even on Facebook now! My kids AND grand kids are amazed! Thank you.”  —Betty H

“The Metal Mustangs were amazingly helpful. They were polite and very patient with every question I had. These young ladies and gentlemen allowed me to learn something that I thought was beyond my understanding at this point in my life.”  —John M

“I have an Instagram account now! Can you believe it!” —Ida G

Powell says the team looks forward to resuming Tech Talk hours as soon as it’s safe.

“This experience just proves that we can always learn and always share knowledge. You never know when that knowledge can make a huge impact in someone’s life,” she added, noting that working with the residents had an outsize influence on her team members.

“One of the biggest takeaways I had as a coach was that the team wanted to continue this project not only because they like helping, but also because they loved hearing the residents’ life stories. Different generations side by side, connecting and learning from each other—how cool is that?”