LAKEWOOD RANCH — Betty Vernon squirmed in her chair at Monkey Paws Ice Cream & Coffee.
“I’ve never used a computer before,” she said, casting a glance at her new Compaq laptop on the table. “I’m kicking and screaming into the 21st century.”
Thankfully, Vernon has enlisted the help of someone much more experienced than she is — 13-year-old Robert Collier, a student at Haile Middle School.
Although the pairing may seem unlikely, the youth group at Our Lady of the Angels Catholic Community is hoping it’s the perfect combination for crossing generational barriers and filling a need in the community.
Youth Pastor Mo Flaherty said she has more than 20 youth volunteers lined up to help in whatever ways they can. The group, dubbed the Meek Squad, arranges for one-on-one mentoring with seniors, whether in their homes for a desktop computer lesson or in a place such as Monkey Paws for those who have laptops.
Some individuals need to know everything from how to turn the computer on to how to send an e-mail, while others, such as Vernon’s husband, Jim, are familiar with the machines and just have have a few minor questions.
“The youth are really strong in computers,” Flaherty said. “When you are learning a new technology when you are older, it can be a very scary experience. I thought it would be a wonderful match.”
So far, participants in the program seem to agree.
Betty Vernon, though overwhelmed by the amount of information, said she was grateful her counselor was taking care in explaining the computer.
“He’s so good, and I’m so nowhere,” she said, chuckling. “He is a patient child.”
Eileen Maslanka, who was out for her second lesson, agreed.
“It’s been so great,” she said. “I was starting from this is how you plug it in, and this is how you turn it on. These young people really know what they are doing.”
Already, she’s learned many computer basics plus additional skills such as sending and receiving e-mails and how to order books online.
“It’s a great program,” Maslanka said. “I’ve got more confidence now.”
The students said they are simply eager to help and make the seniors under their direction feel as comfortable as possible while teaching them the skills they seek.
“I like helping people, and if they want to talk with friends and family from out of state, it (e-mail) is an easy way to do it,” 14-year-old Emily Marsh said.
Collier agreed, adding the mentorship program is also about showing seniors how simple using a computer can be.
“You have to get it down to something they know,” Collier said. “You take the computer and show it is as easy as a phone. It’s like sports or anything. The more you do it, the easier it is.”
He said he enjoyed seeing the progress Betty Vernon and other students were making each week.
Contact Pam Eubanks at [email protected].
Are you a senior citizen needing computer tutoring? Contact Flaherty to make arrangements at [email protected] or 752-6770, Ext. 117.