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The program engages seniors with community members who can help coach, mentor and support them through the use of technology.

As a population especially vulnerable to COVID-19, seniors are heavily discouraged from having any physical contact with anyone. But all that isolation gets lonely fast, and many seniors aren’t comfortable setting up videoconferencing technology like Zoom on their own.

In response, Repair the World Detroit is launching a new program, Technology Buddy 101, to help seniors learn more about technology so they can stay connected to their families during this social distancing period.

Community members who are interested in becoming a “tech buddy” for a senior can sign up online and participate in one of the volunteer orientations. Sessions will take place Monday, April 20 at 6 p.m. and Wednesday, April 22 at 6 p.m., through Zoom. More orientations will be added throughout the next few weeks.

During a phone conference, the Detroit Jewish Coalition, a partnership between Jewish organizations based in the city of Detroit, was brainstorming ideas to help ensure the connectivity of the community, especially for seniors, during this challenging time.

The coalition consists of Repair the World Detroit, Isaac Agree Downtown Synagogue, Hillel of Metro Detroit, Cohn-Haddow Center for Judaic Studies at Wayne State University, Chabad in the D, Detroit Jews for Justice, Moishe House of Detroit and the Reconstructionist Congregation of Detroit.

Becca Steinman-DeGroot, community engagement specialist for Repair the World Detroit and director of education for Dor Hadash, came up with the idea after she was helping her parents get familiar with Zoom for their synagogue services.

“It feels like this is a huge need and it is something that we heard a lot from our fellows at Repair the World,” Steinman-DeGroot said. “Even young adults in the community have stated that they have been helping their grandparents or their parents get on Zoom or Facetime.”

Volunteers must be at least 15 years of age and need to be well-versed in Zoom, Google Hangout, Facetime and Facebook Hangout. This program is focusing on the visual connection, not just phone calls.

“We’re just asking that our volunteers are excited to make a connection with someone that is not necessarily versed in technology, can coach someone over the phone and [are] interested in helping create that community feel,” Steinman-DeGroot said.

To become a tech buddy, volunteers must fill out an online sign-up, answering questions about what technology they feel comfortable teaching and what technology they currently are using. After signing up, volunteers will fill out an orientation RSVP so they can participate in one of the virtual training sessions with members from Repair the World Detroit.

“The training sessions will teach volunteers how to connect with their Zoom buddy and learning more about the value connection provides to our community , especially our seniors,” Steinman-DeGroot said. “We want our volunteers to feel comfortable and confident on the phone. We are not looking for technology wizards, but just someone who wants to try and help someone get online and get connected to their families.”

After the training sessions this week, the coalition will send out information to seniors so they can sign up for these partnerships. They can sign up through email, but also over the phone, to reach those who may have never used email before. Seniors will also fill out what type of technology they are looking to learn so they can be paired up with the perfect match.

Any senior who wants to participate is welcome to sign up, not just Jewish ones and not just ones within the city itself.

“We are anticipating sending out this information to different senior life platforms, including synagogues and senior-life groups,” Steinman DeGroot said. “We’re also encouraging organizations and synagogues who have senior participants that may not be present online, to let them know about this program so they can become connected to the community.”

In addition to helping seniors become tech-savvy, the coalition hopes that this program will make the community stronger and allow for friendships to blossom.

“We want to ensure, for both the needs of the seniors’ mental and physical health, that they are connected, not only to their families, but to their community as well,” Steinman-DeGroot said. “We want no one in our communities to be left out during this time, and hope that this will grow a larger support system for everyone.”

Links for Technology Buddy 101:

Sign Up Form

Training RSVP Form

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