Comfortable with technology that people of their grandparents’ age have barely heard of, 18 Princeton teenagers helped seniors at Greenwood House open new lines of communication with families living far away.
The 11th- and 12th-graders at the afterschool Tichon Ve’od education program at The Jewish Center of Princeton visited the senior complex in Ewing on Jan. 13, introducing residents to Skype video chats and other high-tech applications.
“Our kids set up the programs and sat with the seniors while they spoke with their families,” said Neil Wise, director of programming at The Jewish Center. “For some residents it was the first time they had ever used Skype. It was a really cool program.”
“It was a win-win situation,” said Linda Grenis, director of community outreach at Greenwood House. “It bridged a gap between students and seniors, and it was a comfortable level for the two generations to communicate on.”
Few of the residents had had much experience with computers before the teens came to visit.
“They marveled at the concept,” Grenis told NJ Jewish News. As they held iPads for the first time, the seniors “were shocked that they could see a family member. It was unbelievable,” she said.
Karen Ursitti, a school teacher, called the half-hour she and her mother, Mildred Weinstein, spent chatting by Skype “so special and so wonderful,” especially because the seven-hour round trip between Greenwood House and her home in Danbury, Conn., makes it difficult to visit often.
“My mother had no clue what Skype was and she absolutely loved it,” Ursitti told NJJN in a Jan. 30 phone interview. “You should have seen the smile on her face. If someone could have offered me the original Mona Lisa, I wouldn’t have accepted it, because my mother’s smile was just so genuine.”
Ron Michaels and his family gathered in front of a computer screen in Fort Collins, Colo., for a 30-minute conversation with his mother, Ellie Chaiken.
“She was really taken aback by the technology,” he told NJJN by phone on Jan. 30. “She was very surprised that she could see us from several thousands of miles away. It was just super.”
“I was really thrilled to be able to talk with him and see him at the same time,” said his mother. “I hope we can do it again.”
While some of the Jewish Center teens conducted the training, another group helped create playful Photoshop images of the seniors doing such things as riding roller coasters and lying on a beach.
“We showed them the cool effects we could do and they thought that was really neat,” said Gabriela Bloom, a Princeton High School junior who was part of the Jewish Center contingent. “I talked with one woman who told me she had always wanted to visit Paris, so I took a picture of her and put her in front of the Eiffel Tower. It was a very rewarding experience.”
Other students sharpened the skills they will need for the college admissions process and job interviews by asking questions of their elders.
The iPads themselves were “amazing to our residents,” Grenis said. “We have old computers here, so when the kids brought their iPads, they were so light that people could hold them in their hands.”
Grenis would like to see the benefits of the session continue. “We need people to donate their old iPads to us,” she said, “and volunteer their time to assist in future Skype sessions.”
“If more seniors can do this with their loved ones it would open up a lot of doors,” Michaels said. “Getting other nursing homes and senior citizens centers on board with this technology would be awesome.”
Greenwood House, which offers skilled nursing, assisted living, hospice care, rehabilitation, and kosher meals-on-wheels, is a beneficiary agency of Jewish Federation of Princeton Mercer Bucks.