Sophomore helps seniors get on Facebook

Neal, a sophomore at Wilton High School, recently began “Juniors to Seniors,” a program aimed at making technology a little less overwhelming for senior citizens.

The hourlong sessions occur at the Wilton Senior Center inside the Comstock Community Center. While two of the sessions took place in March, two more are scheduled for April 16 at 10:30 and April 18 at 2, with perhaps more to follow. Each program costs $15.

The concept began when Neal noticed that family in India couldn’t grasp many online concepts.

“I realized that people want to find a way to connect with other people, but a lot of people can’t use Facebook,” he said. So I thought that would be a good way to help the community to connect with family and friends.”

The program is interactive, with Neal and fellow students from Wilton High School assisting seniors to set up a Facebook account, load pictures, find friends, and embrace the social media giant.

Neal and his classmates Andrew Curtice, Will Hoffmann, Ian Erickson, and Gerrit Gaillard are the ones on the ground floor of “Juniors to Seniors” and hope to create a school club out of it.

“By doing that, kids from other grades will be able to join,” he said. “Hopefully by the time I graduate, someone else will be able to lead it and keep it going.”

While there are programs in town where teens and seniors can interact, Neal feels that this is an opportunity to bridge any potential generation gap.

With a program such as this, there are bound to be moments of humor, and lots of questions from the senior citizens to their young counterparts.

“A woman added a friend who started messaging her,” Neal said. “She didn’t know how to message back. So it was kind of difficult to get through the process. The person kept sending messages though. It was pretty funny.

“If they’re not asking the questions, then I don’t know what they’re understanding and what I need to go over,” he added. “But they’re asking the questions, so it’s been going well so far.”

The program includes a section on security, making sure the new Facebook users are clicking the right links. Online danger exists for all, and Neal looks to keep everyone safe.

As “Juniors to Seniors” grows, Neal is hoping to cover everything related to technology. He is looking to teach classes on iPads and iPhones, for instance.

“We’ve been really pleased with the response,” said Lizabeth Doty, senior activities coordinator. “It’s evolving with each class. Each class isn’t taught the same way. For example, in the first class we had a person who didn’t have a Facebook account, while two others were skeptical.

“We watched as Neal coaxed them to sign up. In the second class, everyone had a Facebook account. The preliminary stuff didn’t have to be addressed. Each class is custom made depending on the group.”

Neal’s mother, Seema, sat nearby with a family member visiting from overseas and expressed her admiration for her son. Ms. Sarup works at Wilton Library, and she says visitors ask for programs directed at taking the caution out of learning technology.

“I’m proud that he is doing this,” Ms. Sarup said. “I really like the fact that he wants to work with the senior people. He is passionate about giving something to the community. When he came up with this program, I think that’s what he was thinking of, his grandparents and family who are not used to technology. They want to do it but they’re hesitant.”

Neal also works at the library and runs on the track team at Wilton High School.

“It’s been going really well,” he said. “I’m really happy that so many people have been showing interest in it. I hope more people want to join us. We could definitely use more people to help us out. We can do more sessions and create more programs. That would be really good.”