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Teens and elders bridge generation gap and digital divide

December 19, 2014 at 6:20 PM EDT
There are fewer and fewer opportunities for senior citizens and millennials to encounter one another in daily life. The NewsHour’s Mary Jo Brooks reports from Denver on two organizations that pair adolescents to help elders with household tasks and digital literacy, who in turn offer wisdom and experience.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: Finally tonight, building bridges across the generation gap and the technology divide.

The “NewsHour”‘s Mary Jo Brooks has our report.

COURTNEY KERSHAW: You got it?

DOROTHY STONE: Yes. Yes.

COURTNEY KERSHAW: You work out for the day?

(LAUGHTER)

MARY JO BROOKS: Twice a week, 24-year-old Courtney Kershaw and 89-year-old Dorothy Stone head out on errands. On the day we visited, there was a trip to the nail salon and the grocery store.

Kershaw works for Denver-based concierge business called Capable Living, which provide services for senior citizens who live in their own home. Fees start at $1,000 a month. What’s unique is that the employees are all young people, so-called millennials who were born at the end of the last century.

The goal of the company is not only to provide services, but to build bridges between a generation obsessed with smartphones and selfies with one that was raised in an entirely different era.

COURTNEY KERSHAW: Some of my favorite things were you telling me about when you were my age and how you would fill up the car for 10 cents and go driving around all day.

DOROTHY STONE: Oh, yes.

When I was her age, the war was going on, so it was sort of a different situation, too, as far as young girls were concerned.

MARY JO BROOKS: Amanda Cavaleri founded Capable Living five years ago, when she was just 20 years old. She now travels around the country speaking to young entrepreneurs and college students about the benefits and business opportunities for millennials who work with seniors.

AMANDA CAVALERI, Capable Living: Most of my good friends never thought of this as a career, like myself. And most of them are on completely different paths. But there is a huge opportunity for millennials to get into this space. And on the business side, the financial side, there is a large opportunity.

Do you mind if we brainstorm a little bit?

MARY JO BROOKS: Cavaleri points to demographic data that shows, in 10 years, millennials will make up 75 percent of the work force, while baby boomers will be retiring from their careers.

She thinks it’s just good business sense for young people to start developing services for this older generation and it makes good life sense for the two groups to interact.

AMANDA CAVALERI: Elders are able to pass down their experiences and their stories. And they’re relevant again. And it’s being relevant that gives them meaning and purpose. And I do believe that those younger/older connections are very, very important to us to grow as a society.

WOMAN: This happens to be me when I was, I don’t know, probably six months old or something like that.

WOMAN: You’re really adorable.

MARY JO BROOKS: One of Cavaleri’s newest projects is to start a nonprofit Cyber Seniors program in Denver. She plans to model it after one in nearby Boulder, where high school volunteers work with seniors on computer and Internet issues.

BRUCE MACKENZIE: What do I do after?

MARY JO BROOKS: Bruce MacKenzie lives in the retirement community.

BRUCE MACKENZIE: I’m taking a class at the university called Hip-Hop 101. And I didn’t know how to listen to the rap songs that are on hip-hop. And Ryan (ph) showed me how to go to YouTube, which I never knew anything about. So I go to YouTube now and I can listen to all these rap songs for my class.

MARY JO BROOKS: MacKenzie and other residents work with students from the nearby New Vista High School once a week.

Kevin Bunnell loves it.

KEVIN BUNNELL: These young women and men are just delightful. They’re bright. It makes me feel 10 years younger every time they come.

MARY JO BROOKS: And the students are equally enthusiastic.

TAYA BRUELL: I’m just a high school student and here I’m getting to connect with these people who don’t really know anything about technology. And I have the power to connect them, and it’s a really special feeling.

STUDENT: I’m learning a lot from them and they’re learning from me. I have actually found through this that I think I like older people more than I like younger people.

MARY JO BROOKS: Jack Williamson runs this chapter of Cyber Seniors.

JACK WILLIAMSON, Cyber Seniors: It helps bridge the gap between the generation gap and the information gap and it builds relationships with young people and seniors, which is sort of rare in our culture today.

AMANDA CAVALERI: Elders and children have a very natural bond that we have lost through the Industrial Revolution and then even more with the information age. But I believe that, you know, the technology that once displaced elders can now connect us again.

MARY JO BROOKS: Cavaleri’s latest project is to develop a smartphone app so millennials can interview, record and preserve the stories of senior citizens. She hopes to begin a pilot program in two schools later this winter.

I’m Mary Jo Brooks in Denver for the “NewsHour.”

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