Intergenerational Program Builds Confidence for Young and Old
“I know I can do anything now,” says 10th grader
When 15-year-old Mena Jowaheer volunteered to teach computers to seniors at the Castle Hill Senior Center last October, she was worried that the older individuals in the class might not be interested in what a 10th-grader had to offer. “I was a little bit afraid that they wouldn’t listen to me,” she says.
But just 12 weeks later, Mena was co-teaching classes on email and the Internet to a satisfied group of senior citizens – presenting material and speaking in front of the group. “When I started this program I wasn’t sure that I was going to complete it,” she says. “Now I know I can help people and I believe in myself more. I know I can do anything now.”
Mena participated in the OATS Technology Training and Leadership Institute, a 12-week program operating at three locations around the city where OATS trains high school students to teach computers to senior citizens. Youth participants gain critical skills in public speaking, classroom techniques, and working with the elderly, while seniors get ten weeks of free computer training. Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz says the program “has the potential to be a national model.”
Students and seniors have been giving the program high marks at all three locations: One student said she particularly enjoyed the sessions because “you learn while you are teaching.” Senior participants liked the social aspects of the class just as much as the computer skills: “The best part of the program is coming on Tues and Friday and being with friends and neighbors,” said one 66-year-old woman.
The Institute is supported by grants from the JPMorgan Chase Foundation, Independence Community Bank, ConEdison, and United Way, as well as City Councilmembers Deblasio, Palma, and Vann. Mena Jowaheer has already put her new skills to work: she reads to classes of younger students as part of a school program and she says the OATS Institute made her more confident. “Before the OATS program,” she says, “I never felt that I was good at communicating with people. The OATS course helped me by proving that I could talk to anyone about anything. It made me a better teacher.”