Naugatuck YMCA program teaches novices to use technology

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NAUGATUCK, CT — Raheem Khan, a Naugatuck High School senior, teaches Marie Solazzo, of Naugatuck, how to use the computer during the Seniors Staying Connected program at the Connecticut Brownfield Land Bank on Church Street on Nov.8. Andreas Yilma Citizen’s News

By Andreas Yilma Citizen’s News

NAUGATUCK — Students from Naugatuck and Woodland high schools are teaching senior citizens how to use technology through a Naugatuck YMCA program, just as the COVID-19 pandemic has forced many people to connect remotely.

Seven students – four from Woodland and three from Naugatuck – worked together over the summer to create a curriculum to teach technology to seniors after the Naugatuck Y received a grant from the Connecticut Community Foundation. It used that money to purchase iPads and plans to purchase tablets for seniors to take home during its seven-week session.

The first session of “Seniors Staying Connected” began during the summer in Naugatuck. The second session expanded to include Beacon Falls and began on Oct. 30 at the Beacon Falls Senior Center. The second session runs until the second week of December.

Beacon Falls seniors meet with students on at the Beacon Falls Senior Center on Saturdays from 11 a.m. to noon. Naugatuck seniors get together for class on Mondays at the Naugatuck Y from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m.

Naugatuck YMCA CEO Mark LaFortune said it’s critical for seniors to learn about technology so they don’t get left behind.

“Going back to the pandemic, I think the biggest thing is being able to help our seniors find out how to connect with people whether they can leave the house or not,” LaFortune said. “Technology is in everybody’s hands now a days and in order for us to do the best in the community, we have to help everybody from our youngest community person to the oldest.”

About a dozen students from both schools are earning community service time for their school, according to Naugatuck YMCA Director of Operations Sherri Beck.

Charli Hughes, a sophomore at Woodland, said the pandemic translated to increased connectivity.

“A lot of the seniors were really struggling through COVID because they had no way of reaching out to their family or staying connected to everyone else,” Hughes said. “So we make sure to teach them how to use things like email and Zoom that are really beneficial for them to stay in touch more.”

“Some of the seniors I’ve worked with, I’ve literally helped them connect with their family members,” said Molly Nicholas, a sophomore at Woodland. “I’ve watched them text their grandchildren or even their siblings sometimes and it’s really cool to watch.”

Raheem Khan, a Naugatuck High School senior who taught Marie Solazzo how to use certain devices or programs, said it’s more satisfying to be able to help other people.

“Everything is online now, especially due to the pandemic,” Khan said “So if they can’t access it, it’s kind of your duty to help them.”

Solazzo, 70, of Naugatuck, said she started in the program in the summer and has already learned a few things such as how to access Google docs and how to check an email while on the call with someone else.

“I think this is a game changer for people,” Solazzo said.

Solazzo said people shouldn’t feel intimated if they don’t know how to use technology because not everyone knows how to use it or has readily available help.

Kyle Egan, a sophomore at Woodland, said it’s rewarding to teach seniors.

“We all have grandparents, even parents that will need help with technology and we’re always there to help them because that’s our generation,” Egan said. “So being able to extend that to other people who might not have those younger people around just is really rewarding for us.”

LaFortune said members of the program are planning to do a third session beginning Jan. 10.

“It’s going to be an ongoing program,” Beck said. “The youth are getting a lot out of it as well as the seniors.”

Naugatuck Y is looking for youth members to join the volunteer lead technology program. People interested can call 203-729-9622 for information.