A high school honors student, Charlotte single-handedly created and launched an innovative program called SeniorConnect, which utilizes mainstream computer technology to improve the lives of senior citizens. SeniorConnect has now been up and running for seven months and has proven to be so successful that it has been adopted by a local charitable agency as a formal, funded program. Charlotte’s initiative, simple in concept and initially small in scale, demonstrates how one high school student can make a substantial difference in the loves of others.
As a 4-year volunteer at a local assisted living facility, Charlotte developed a first hand understanding of the needs of senior citizens living apart from family and friends. Charlotte’s innovative program addresses a vitally important quality of life issue for the senior population: communication. Staying connected through regular communication prevents feelings of isolation and increases a sense of belonging. Charlotte’s SeniorConnect program helps seniors remain in touch with friends and family using current, low-cost technology. It offers flexibility in terms of location, creating a comfortable situation in which seniors can communicate at their own pace and on their own terms.
SeniorConnect involves volunteers helping seniors stay connected through the Internet. Charlotte spends time with seniors at regular intervals, composing and sending their messages to friends and loved ones using laptop technology. SeniorConnect benefits both physically disabled seniors as well as those that are technology-wary. Neither group is required to touch the computer. Instead they dictate their messages to Charlotte or another trained volunteer, who transcribes their words into a message composed on a laptop. Laptop Technology allows volunteers to go from room to room, working with residents who are not mobile or do not wish to leave their rooms. From the laptop, received messages from loved ones are shared and, depending on the format, can be printed on the spot, allowing seniors to save cherished correspondence.
SeniorConnect is inclusive and adaptable, allowing all residents to participate. Residents benefit from the regular communication with friends and family; moreover, they enjoy the interactions with volunteers and the personal, meaningful relationships that develop.
Launched in September 2004, SeniorConnect has proven to be extremely successful in the months that it has been in operation. This past January, hoping to expand the program’s reach, Charlotte approached several charitable agencies about working together to launch the program at other assisted living facilities. Realizing the program’s potential for making a real difference in the loves of the elderly, the Greater Manchester NH chapter of the Red Cross formally adopted the program as one of its offerings. Together, Charlotte and the Red Cross are working to obtain additional funding, train volunteers, and introduce SeniorConnect to other assisted living facilities in the area.