The reopening of the Senior Center on July 1 is good news for hundreds of Westporters. For over 15 months they have missed the classes, lectures and social events that were so meaningful and fun.
It’s good news too for all those seniors who need help learning a new electronic device, figuring out how to Zoom, or otherwise coping with the digital world.
Before the pandemic, they got help in person from teenagers. A dozen Staples High School students were part of SMORES (Social Media Outreach Educators), a group started by Jake Motyl.
The coronavirus forced them all online. It was not easy teaching someone unfamiliar with a tablet or phone how to use it remotely, but both the teens and their “students” persevered.
Earlier this month, Jake graduated from Staples. This fall, he heads to the University of Southern California.
But SMORES is stronger than ever. The new leader is his sister, rising junior Caroline Motyl.
She’s been Jake’s vice president since freshman year. She shares his enthusiasm for helping older Westporters. In fact, it’s one of her passions.
“I’m pretty active in social justice — racism, sexism, environmentalism,” she says. “But people don’t usually talk about ageism. A lot of people look down on older people. They think they’re not in touch.”
Caroline admits that she’s sometimes guilty herself. “When my mom can’t post on Instagram, I’m like, ‘Come on!’ She says, ‘I didn’t grow up with this. You did.’ I’m trying really hard to prevent myself and others from being like that.”
Through SMORES, Caroline has learned to look at perspectives different from her own. “It’s so easy for me to use a cellphone. My generation does it so fast. We do everything fast. But that’s not the case for older generations. They do things more slowly.”
The importance of “non-digital natives” navigating the complex universe of devices, social media, printers and routers was driven home last Thanksgiving. Caroline helped a woman set up her iPad, so she could Zoom with family members.
“That’s such an important holiday. It meant so much to her to be together, even just on Zoom,” Caroline says.
She looks forward to helping, live, again. “I thought online school was hard. But trying to help someone use a phone while actually n the phone was one of the hardest things I’ve done. I couldn’t point to something, or touch the screen. But it’s so important for them to feel connected. Somehow we did it.”
In 8th grade science class, Caroline had to write detailed instructions on how she made a Lego structure. This year, she hopes to use that concept to create step-by-step instructions for some of the most frequently asked questions.
“So many other countries treat older people with the utmost respect,” Caroline notes. “Our country does not treat them as we should.”
She and her fellow SMORES members are trying to change that. One cellphone, tablet and laptop at a time.
(For more information or help, text Caroline at 203-644-7749, or call the Senior Center: 203-341-5099.)