Forming Community Through Virtual Connection: Bridging the Technological Age Gap During COVID-19
Hi everyone! My name is Lauren Hall, and I am from Richland, Washington, where I was born and raised. This past May, I graduated from the University of Idaho with a degree in microbiology. I intend to return to school in pursuit of a Master’s in Public Health, but I first wanted to take a gap year to serve vulnerable populations. During my first 5 months in the Bay Area, I have so enjoyed serving at Curry Senior Center, where I am continuously learning from the staff and community members.
The COVID-19 pandemic has magnified the public health concern of social isolation. Many people across the world, primarily the older adult population, are more isolated from their friends and loved ones. As our lives become increasingly online, our aging population, which makes up a growing share of our global population, is left behind.
This year, I am serving at Curry Senior Center in the Tenderloin neighborhood in San Francisco, where I help older adults find community and improve their health through digital connection. My role at Curry is with the Senior Vitality Program, engaging seniors who are low income, socially isolated, and with little to no understanding of technology. This is done by lending them an iPad, Fitbit, WIFI service, and digital scale for 12 months, which the seniors keep after program completion.
Each senior is in a different stage of understanding technology, and some who are eager to continue learning reach out for one-on-one support. My interactions with one client in particular stand out to me. At 75 years old, she got her first smartphone – a huge learning curve from her traditional landline phone. This client lives alone in a single-room occupancy hotel, with her closest family member, her son, living in another state.
For our first appointment, she wanted to learn how to text her son and see the pictures he sent. I distinctly remember when she finally learned how to pull up the images. She was ecstatic and couldn’t stop saying “There’s my son!” In this moment, I realized something seemingly simple, like opening the photos app, brought her such joy. Afterwards, she was able to reply to her son’s text. A week later, she called to schedule another tech support appointment to reinforce the skills we learned. Now this client is able to text me “Thank you” without any assistance. Knowing that our lessons together help her connect with her family truly illustrates the power of using technology to counteract social isolation.
Through my time at Curry, I have seen how bridging the digital divide experienced by seniors can significantly improve feelings of isolation, and further, quality of life and physical health. I hope to continue using technology to reach the Tenderloin senior population during this extended Shelter in Place time so more clients can experience the joy of connection.