Trish Lopez was uncertain and excited, as she made her way through the first Startup Weekend Women’s event in New Mexico back in the spring of 2015. The entrepreneurial competition was a stretch for the former film industry exec, who spent 13 years working at Sony, Warner Bros, and New Line Cinema. But Lopez was on a mission.
“I had been watching my mom struggle to understand personal technology and noticing in a broader sense the ways seniors feel isolated and excluded,” explains the social entrepreneur, now 41. “I am someone with a passion for cultivating the human connection by bringing people together from all walks of life. While I had no small business experience at the time, I knew I had to do something to address this issue.”
To her surprise and glee, Teeniors® won first place.
In the five years since, her tutoring program has helped nearly 3,000 older adults in Albuquerque alone, and many more across the state. Her program has also has earned media attention from the New York Times and NPR to Oxford University Press.
Coaches (ages 16 to 29) say working with seniors is not only improving their ability to communicate well with people who are not their peers, it is teaching them patience while improving their own technology skills. “We aren’t just helping seniors understand technology,” offers Kendra Gonzales, 20, who has been Teeniors® since its start. “Working with them is building our confidence. I am happier than I have been in years.”
Client Terri Thorpe, 70, is also grateful for the opportunity to connect with the teen tutors. “For someone who is alone and has no young people in her life, this program has given me hope. Someone will help us and not yell at us? The tutors welcomed me the moment I started. They didn’t make me feel stupid or condescended to. I hope they realize the impact of what they are doing for people like me.”
Cultivating the human connection is the true mission for Lopez, who in 2017 launched a non-profit arm to support the hundreds of hours of coaching provided to seniors with limited financial resources. “My goal is to give new meaning to intergenerational learning and spread Teeniors® centers to communities across the country.”
How can you help the technically challenged in your life?
If your loved one is struggling to master technology, Trish Lopez says these three tips will help build their skills and confidence.
Tip 1: Remember, no question is a stupid question. Ask your senior to tell you what they are hoping to learn, and as they talk take notes on their thoughts and questions. Your patience will calm their concerns and help you best understand where they are struggling.
Tip 2: Teach a man to fish. Let them hold the device as they are learning about it. Have them push the buttons, explore, and make mistakes. Experiential learning is often the is the best way to master a new task.
Tip 3: Kindness counts. Imagine what it would be to learn advanced statistics, quantum physics, or to speak Greek. Go slow, lay the foundation, and add layers as understanding accrues.
Learn more at www.teeniors.com.
This article originally appeared in Costco’s magazine, The Connection.