Generation Exchange connects students and older adults in order to exchange knowledge and understanding about technology while creating new connections of engagement, purpose, and leadership between generations.
Generation Exchange is an organization built on three beliefs:
1) We believe that technology should be easy and accessible for everyone: no one left behind, no exceptions;
2) We believe our rapid technological evolution has created a generation gap, to the detriment of all age groups. This gap disempowers and isolates older generations, while it creates barriers for younger generations to connect with the wealth of insight and experience older generations have to offer them; and,
3) We believe technology has the power to dramatically enhance the lives of older generations, and reconnect them as a resource to the larger community.
Generation Exchange currently acts on these three beliefs by holding free workshops that connect younger volunteers with older adults in order to share digital technology knowledge and experience while fostering greater confidence. Younger volunteers (Mentors) are paired one-on-one with older adults (Mentees) to answer their questions about devices such as phones, laptops, and tablets. There is never a curriculum, but rather Mentees are expected to come with their collection of questions. Mentors are trained to let these questions drive the coaching, and all participants are encouraged to begin with conversations sharing personal experiences rather than directly discussing technology.
We believe authentic respect is the prerequisite for constructive interpersonal exchange, and that interpersonal exchange creates trust as a powerful and fundamental path to empowerment and well-being. The one-on-one interactions in Generation Exchange workshops are mutually beneficial: they challenge the perceptions that separate generations. While Mentees at our workshops have been delighted with their new-found tech confidence and abilities, they also marvel at the volunteerism of their younger Mentors. The empowerment they experience directly contributes to their quality of life in connectedness, security, and vitality. Conversely, Mentors repeatedly express their appreciation for new levels of connection to their older partners in the program, and ultimately the older generations in their personal lives. The exigency they experience for their own knowledge offers them both purpose and a sense of leadership while they benefit from the seasoned perspectives, invaluable wisdom, and professional connections of their older counterparts.
Free monthly sessions have been held throughout 2018 and 2019 In Boulder, Colorado; as of Spring 2019 we have had over 500 participants. The number of participants per workshop has varied from 20 to 90 people, and the age of participants has ranged from 13 to 97 years old. We are developing additional chapters in urban and rural University communities around Colorado including CSU at Fort Collins, Mesa University at Grand Junction, and University of Denver.
The seeming perception that older adults can’t or won’t undertake digital literacy is costing us all: as one college volunteer expressed: “Who decided we can’t have 75-year-old software developers?” We have been repeatedly inspired by our older participants’ transformations from lacking confidence to “ready to learn something new” and enjoying “going into the unknown.” Generation Exchange helps reframe the “Aging of America” from a problem to be solved to an untapped resource willing and able to give back and offer support to younger generations and to society at large.