Senior citizens know a lot about life, but digital technology leaves many of them stumped and feeling isolated in a fast-paced, rapidly evolving world. A social enterprise called Teeniors, located in Albuquerque, works to solve that problem by matching elderly adults with tech-savvy young people who can explain the complexities of using a smartphone, computer or tablet.
Founder Trish Lopez first pitched the idea for Teeniors at the inaugural Startup Weekend Women’s event in New Mexico in 2015. After winning first place in the competition, Teeniors was chosen to participate in a local business accelerator and soon acquired its first client. Operating as a small social venture with a nonprofit arm, Teeniors has tutored more than 2,000 older adults in Albuquerque while providing paid, meaningful work to dozens of teenagers and millennials, according to the company’s website.
In a recent story by NPR, Lopez said she started the company after seeing her own mother struggling with her computer. “She’d lose a password, she’d lose a document, and then she didn’t know some simple commands like Control Z that could undo everything she had just done,” Lopez told NPR. “And so she would start all over again.”
Teenagers who work in the Teeniors program develop fundamental “people skills,” such as patience, empathy and listening. Their senior-adult pupils learn how to operate their smartphones, navigate their tablets, and create, save and print documents on laptops and desktops. The teenage tutors also teach seniors the ins and outs of everything from Apple TVs to Amazon Echo.
Teeniors offers private individual sessions and group events. Private sessions at the Teeniors office cost $49.95 per hour, while sessions at the client’s home cost $59.95 per hour. Group sessions cost between $300 and $500, depending on the number of attendees.
The young tutors, meanwhile, earn $15 an hour for individual lessons and $10 an hour for group sessions.
Teeniors launched a nonprofit arm in 2017, thus qualifying for grants to expand its services to low-income clients who can’t afford to pay. So far, the nonprofit has won $115,000 in grants from Comcast, Facebook, Hewitt Packard, Blue Cross Blue Shield New Mexico, the Albuquerque Community Foundation and the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association, the Albuquerque Journal reports. Teeniors uses the grant money to offer free workshops throughout central New Mexico.
According to the Albuquerque Journal, Facebook last year awarded Teeniors a $40,000 grant to provide up to 60 free workshops at five senior centers in Valencia County. The social media giant wants to make sure consumers can use technology to improve their lives, William Marks, Facebook’s Western Region community development manager, told the newspaper.
“Teeniors takes the next generation of students and links them with generations of adults who didn’t grow up with technology,” Marks said. “It helps make the adults’ lives better, and it builds real connections by allowing teens and seniors to share and learn about each other, and the teens are getting paid. Everyone at Facebook just loves the program.”
Camilla Dodson, a 76-year-old who moved to the U.S. from Lesotho in southern Africa in 2000, said her workshop experience with Teeniors has liberated her. “Now I can carry the phone in the car, and I can make a 911 call if I need to or take pictures,” she told the Albuquerque Journal. “Now I’m free like everyone else.”
Kaitlyn Akron, an 18-year-old college freshman, started working for Teeniors when she was just 14. “It’s given me a lot of confidence in myself to talk with people and to realize I can teach others about things that I know,” she told the Albuquerque Journal. “It’s really fulfilling. People would think it’s stressful coaching older people, but I love seeing that ‘a-ha’ moment when they get it.”
“I think that’s why we’ve been so successful,” Lopez told NPR. “The intergenerational learning experience is really remarkable, and that’s why I always say the main service we provide is not tech support. It is human connection.”