Tech-savvy teens update elders about smart phones, computers

Teens sync seniors with technology

By Peter Madsen, The Bulletin, @OutdoorsyInBend

Tech classes

What: Teen Elder Computer Help (TECH)

When: Every third Thursday, noon-12:50 p.m.

Where: Sky View Middle School, 63555 NE 18th St., Bend

Cost: free; register at https://volunteer.bend.k12.or.us

What: Teen Elder Computer Help (TECH)

When: Twice a month, days vary; the next class is March 3 from 8:10 to 9 a.m.

Where: Crook County Middle School, 100 NE Knowledge St., Prineville

Cost: Free; register in-person in advance

Yes You Can!

What: Personalized, in-home technology assistance

Where: Sisters area

For more information, call Maggie Bidasolo at 541-480-6165 or email mbidasolo@yahoo.com .

Teens are helping seniors throughout Central Oregon bridge the technological divide with small, personalized classes that sync them with their smartphones and computers.

Sisters teen Maggie Bidasolo considers her ability to help seniors a gift. The 18-year-old has meshed her technological savvy with a passion for teaching to benefit nearly two dozen seniors.

“I think the hardest part for (seniors) … is that (technology) all seems like magic to them. But it’s really not, and it’s really simple,” said Bidasolo, who’s fluent in both PC and Mac operating systems.

She acquired these skills by serving as tech support for her father’s one-man timber-trading business since she was 10. Since then, she has also accompanied her mother, a nurse, on house calls to seniors, who would often ask her to troubleshoot a befuddling computer or smartphone.

Bend and Prineville teens are also lending their know-how. Students at Sky View and Crook County middle schools offer free Teen Elder Computer Help classes in partnership with the Central Oregon Council on Aging.

Seniors 65 and older make up the fastest growing group of social networking site users, having more than quadrupled since 2010 from 7 percent to 34 percent, according to the Pew Research Center.

Bidasolo, whose age group of 18 to 29 comprises 86 percent of social media users, knows some seniors just need someone patient to lead them into the quickly accelerating digital landscape.

“Because (seniors) grew up in an era with the old school pencil and paper and there weren’t magic buttons that did magic things, their brains get really afraid of (technology),” Bidasolo said. “And they’re afraid to learn and to jump past that.”

Yes You Can!

Since she was 10, Bidasolo has informally visited more than 20 seniors to help them with their technological needs — for example, using email and Microsoft programs such as Word and Excel — yet she began to take her work more seriously last year. Then a senior at Sisters High School, she enrolled in an entrepreneurial class where students pitted business proposals against each other in an interclassroom contest. Her plan for a tutorship geared toward older generations and the technologically challenged won.

“I have a passion for technology and teaching,” Bidasolo said. “I just wanted to put it all together.”

With the help of her father, Bidasolo will launch “Yes You Can!” in Eugene when she attends the University of Oregon this fall where she will major in business and minor in sports journalism. The fledgling program is named after a common refrain in her tutoring sessions. As she has done in Central Oregon, Bidasolo intends to make house calls to groups smaller than six. This fosters a warm, familiar learning environment where people will feel comfortable confronting the technological unknown. The work will also benefit the incoming freshman’s bottom line.

“It’ll be my extra spending money on the side,” she said.

Bidasolo credits her intergenerational ease with being an only child and her parents’ willingness to involve her in their daily tasks. Her father, Mike Bidasolo, refers to Maggie as his “IT department.” She’s helped his business input data by manipulating Microsoft Excel and QuickBooks since she was in fifth grade. He said she also became a technological savant by adapting to the demands of the online classes she took during her home-schooled years — which stretched from fifth through eighth grades.

“I’ve been around adults my entire life, so I’ve never been afraid of that,” she said. “I actually like talking to adults more than kids my own age.”

During her gap year before college, Bidasolo has been working for the University of Oregon Academic Extension in Bend. There, she helps with several programs, including the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, which offers noncredit, continuing education for adults.

On both the technological and teaching end of things, Heather Inghram, the program coordinator for academic extension at UO, said she has been very impressed with Bidasolo, who handles classroom audiovisuals, helps adult students connect with video-conference classes and tinkers with general troubleshooting.

“She’s very patient, especially with older learners. She takes her time with them, explains every step, even the minute details we might forget,” Inghram said. “She’s very professional.”

In her free time, Bidasolo has made herself available to area seniors since she was a tween. Karen McLaughlin, 57, who is Bidasolo’s neighbor in Sisters, recently found her technological know-how indispensable when her husband died. McLaughlin wanted to honor him with a slideshow at his memorial service, yet didn’t know how. While she uses her computer for “boring stuff” like tax-filing, she couldn’t figure out how to consolidate photos from several laptops and cue them with her late-husband’s favorite songs. Bidasolo visited McLaughlin, made a slideshow using iMovie and cued music using iTunes.

“I have no knowledge of how to do that stuff. She saved the day, really. Young people are better at using computers for creative stuff,” McLaughlin said.

Bidasolo declined McLaughlin’s payment because “her husband had been like a second father.”

“It made me feel really proud to use my skills in a way to give back to someone who meant so much to me,” Bidasolo said. “I have a real passion for giving back to the community in any way I can. That was another outlet for me to do that.”

Generous, not goofs

Teen Elder Computer Help — or TECH — pairs tech-savvy Sky View and Crook County middle school students with seniors who need help with their gadgets. The program, which the Central Oregon Council on Aging founded in 2010, has paired more than 25 high school and middle school students with about 150 seniors since it was relaunched after a hiatus in fall 2015 by Melissa Melby, an information specialist at the nonprofit. In Bend, the Sky View student-led class meets with four to five seniors ages 60 and older on the third Thursday of every month, said Greg Wognild, the middle school’s technology teacher. Beyond offering free tech support, Wognild said the Sky View TECH program has given about 40 seniors the chance to realize the potential and generosity of middle schoolers.

TECH’s teaching format is loose. Students lead the TECH classes with their own presentations, after which they address the class’s questions and conundrums. Common issues involve uploading photos to a computer, fine-tuning a smartphone’s settings, operating email and social media accounts and using Skype.

“Seniors are starting to use (technology) more because they don’t have a choice, but they’re afraid of it. We’re afraid of the unknown. This is a good way to bridge this gap,” Wognild said, mentioning how many seniors take hand-written notes during the class. “It’s fun to watch.”

The Sky View TECH program, which began early this year, has benefited from the Lowe’s Toolbox for Education grant program. Crook County’s TECH program was powered by a $2,000 grant from Facebook’s data center in Prineville’s 2016 Local Community Action Grants program. Becky Carter, the Crook County Middle School language arts teacher and the TECH coordinator, said approximately 24 students help seniors. They often double up so they build relationships with the dozen or so seniors who regularly attend.

Martie Mayers and her husband, both of Prineville, have tried to make every TECH class since it began.

“The kids are great. They’re real patient, and they’re able to explain some of the (technological) language that is not very understandable to ones who have not been exposed to such technology,” Mayers said.

Carter said many of the students have realized they’re far more patient than they thought, sometimes needing to explain a procedure several ways before it gels.

Bidasolo also appreciates how teaching technology to older generations is mutually beneficial.

“I have something to learn from them as well,” Bidasolo said. “They bring me back into having an open mind that everyone learns in a different way and to have patience with that.”

— Reporter: 541-617-7816, pmadsen@bendbulletin.com

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