Cyber-Seniors is Mobilizing an Army of Young People with Virtual Volunteering and Internships

Rachel Colucci
September 30, 2020

Not only is Cyber-Seniors responsible for teaching thousands of seniors technology through a series of free group Zoom tech sessions and one-on-one tutorials, they also have rallied hundreds of keen young people to join their team. Through an intergenerational approach, the program provides students with leadership experience, communications training, and even specialized roles to help them develop career awareness and critical soft skills needed in the adult world!

Cyber-Seniors has recognized how the COVID-19 pandemic has sparked a lasting shift in the workplace and education system—with internships and co-ops moving entirely virtual and young students needing remote volunteer opportunities to fulfill graduation requirements. Since the start of the pandemic, the program has seen a surge in interest from young people, as it allows youth to volunteer from home while still contributing in a meaningful way. The organization currently has a growing team of over five hundred 14 to 25-year-old members—with one very keen 13-year-old—who occupy roles with varying levels of responsibly based on their level of education, comfort level, skills, and availability. Whether the volunteer is a tech mentor or part of their administrative team, all youth are encouraged to take on as much involvement as they wish.

Tech Mentors DevelopingImpactful Relationships with Seniors

Through the tech mentor program, any youth can sign up. They must complete the online training, which consists of watching Cyber-Senior’s award-winning documentary that kick-started the movement, learning from videos followed by a series of quizzes, undergoing a walkthrough of an online portal, and participating in onboarding activities. This week of training is about providing a greater context to what Cyber-Seniors does while learning about the history and mission of the organization. Once the trainee completes these steps, they can then begin teaching online webinars and one-on-one sessions. Often times, teens become tech mentors to complete high school volunteer requirements or even use this as an additional extracurricular activity. There is no pressure to fulfill a minimum amount of volunteer hours, so volunteers set their own commitment level. 

From there, tech mentors are encouraged to hop on weekly Community Chats with staff and participants and connect with their youth peers from all parts of the world. Along the way, our tech volunteers learn valuable life lessons and different perspectives from interacting with seniors who grew up in a different era.

Throughout our tech sessions, our volunteers are able to hear from our senior participants and learn about the lives of those outside their age group. Our youth are often surprised as to how funny these seniors can be!

Specialty Volunteers

Cyber-Seniors also takes on university-level students to fill more particular functions—who they like to call “specialty volunteers.” These students fill roles such as Social Media Manager, French Tech Supervisor, andData Analyst. Though some of these students don’t teach seniors directly, they are still encouraged to join any and all group sessions, and they are in regular contact with their respective team leaders. Sometimes, these specialty volunteers start out as tech mentors, then see this opportunity that is more suited to their skillset. Jason and Reese, who initially joined as tech mentors, are now specialized volunteers in data collection and digital design.

Interns Developing EssentialWorkplace Habits

By partnering with other organizations—like Best Buy Canada and the Toronto District SchoolBoard—Cyber-Seniors also runs internship programs. These programs have more of a “digital office structure”—where students are expected to undergo onboarding training, learn how to utilize digital office space applications like Google Docs and uSked, participate in regular Zoom check-in meetings, and update their work status throughout the day.

Kascha Kassaday, one of the founders of Cyber-Seniors who oversees these interns, describes, “with our interns, we have this structure in place to create professional atmosphere through a digital world. COVID has completely changed the work environment, so we want all our interns to be exposed to these adaptations—clocking in and out online, participating in Zoom meetings, and understanding how to remain professional while at home.” Kascha also does not believe in giving her interns “busy work”but prefers that they assume roles that fit their interests and skillsets. Though most interns are required to do some tech mentoring—in the form of teaching webinars or giving one-on-one tech help—they are also given the opportunity to pick work projects that speak to them.

She goes on to explain, “at the very beginning stages of these internship, I ask them, what are your interests? What kind of field are you looking to get into? Do you have any hobbies? Then, I see what I can do about structuring a job around them.” With this philosophy, young students are able to contribute in a way that is most meaningful to them while building workforce skills that employers are pursuing. 

Building Workplace Skills while Bridging the Generational Divide

Regardless of the initial reason for volunteering, our youth volunteers quickly realize the importance of giving back to seniors within the community while appreciating the relationships they develop with older participants and peer volunteers. They are all given the opportunity take initiative, develop leadership abilities, and learn about themselves along the way, making this volunteer experience so transferrable. Jason, a tech mentor, comments, “it was so fun! Being on Zoom calls with the (Cyber-Seniors) staff and other interns from different places was great. I learned to write a PR script and got amazing feedback. You were so helpful.”

Julia, one youth tech mentor, has been heavily involved in the program over the COVID pandemic and comments on how fruitful her experience has been thus far.

Recognizing the problem ofSocial Isolation due COVID and wishing to help

All our youth volunteers have a shared feeling of being a helper to our vulnerable aging population during this pandemic, those who often do not have any other means of social connection during this time. From growing up in the digital age, technology is second nature to our volunteers, which gives them a wealth of knowledge to share with older adults. Even though these volunteers are not established healthcare workers, does not mean they are not providing an essential service to lessen the stresses felt during this time. If this program and the opportunities highlighted within the article resonate with a teen you know, visit the Cyber-Seniors website to learn how to sign up!

Written by

Rachel Colucci

Rachel is the Social Media Manager for Cyber-Seniors. She oversees all social media outlets from Instagram and Facebook to the organization’s YouTube channel—all with the goal of spreading Cyber-Seniors’ mission and engaging communities across Canada and the United States. She also works to create unique content and collaborate with other non-profit organizations, leading the conversation around the benefits of technology to seniors.