Bridging the Digital Divide at Lakewood Manor

For 81-year-old Sandra Morrison, one of her favorite things to do on her smartphone is to read her granddaughter’s blog, which always features beautiful pictures and interesting stories about hiking the Appalachian Trail. Morrison, a resident at Lakewood Manor Continuing Care Retirement Committee (CCRC), has her granddaughter’s page bookmarked on her homescreen. However, she doesn’t really know how her web browser works. So she sought help from some Collegiate students who volunteered on a recent weekend at Lakewood Manor to help the residents understand and navigate their technological devices better.

Fortunately, I got to work with Morrison at the session. While she told me about her issues with her technology, she mainly talked to me about her family.

David, her grandson, has been pushing her to learn how to operate her phone so they can stay in contact. Morrison wanted to send him a picture of our class to show him how much she was learning, so I walked her through taking a picture and sending it to him. I was impressed when she automatically knew how to get to the emoji keyboard; apparently David has shown her these and said that they make text messages more fun. I was amazed at just how much gratitude I received from Morrison for doing something which seems so simple to me.

Like Morrison, other senior citizens often struggle with new technology. Their lack of knowledge on the subject is one of the reasons why older adults have historically been the target of scams, and “the average age of fraud victims is 69.” Because of this, Lakewood teaches their residents how to be less susceptible to scammers’ tricks.

Laine Beckler (‘18) has been volunteering at Lakewood for years with her grandfather Mike Tessieri. Tessieri started helping people at Lakewood use their technology wisely. He teaches them how to protect themselves from hackers and answers any other related questions. When Beckler mentioned that Tessieri was her grandfather, a sort of surprised and excited expression came to Morrison’s face, and she exclaimed, “We love him!” Morrison then turned to her friend, who was working across the room with a freshman boy, and asked if she knew that Beckler was Tessieri’s granddaughter. Her reaction reminded me of my own grandmother, or “Mamaw,” as we call her. The lady across the room said that everyone knew Beckler was Tessieri’s granddaughter. Mamaw always gives witty responses like that to my questions.

I moved away from my own Mamaw and Chattanooga, Tennessee last summer. For me, one of the hardest parts about moving to a new city was leaving some of my family behind. Working with Morrison and the other ladies in class made me wish there was someone in my Mamaw’s life who could help her stay in contact with me. We got her a smart phone once–which she called “that computer,” with a sneer on her face. But she returned the “computer” a few days later for a flip phone, and even that confuses her at times. For example, sometimes her phone rings, and she can’t figure out how to answer it. Sometimes I’ll take a picture of something I know she’d like, but then I realize how hard it is for her to receive my pictures. Whenever my family wants to send her a few, we print them off and mail them to her, and she calls us when they arrive at her door. While I worked with Morrison last weekend, she received multiple pictures of her new great-granddaughter on her phone. Morrison loves getting these pictures, but she couldn’t figure out how to print them. Tessieri helped her with that also so she can now access those pictures. 

For many residents of Lakewood, the help they receive from Collegiate students is beneficial. Learning how to operate their phones has better connected Lakewood residents to their families. Technology is an integral of society today, and there are many perks in learning how to utilize it. 

All photos by Eva Whaley.

About the author

Eva Whaley is a junior at Collegiate.