The library lounge at Heritage Hill looks like nearly any other library in the area, filled with computers and people of all ages using the lounge to access the Internet and socialize. But this isn't just any lounge or library this is the site of a new knowledge-sharing program between Heritage Hill Senior Community and Weatherly Area High School.
Students stop by Heritage Hill each week to teach residents the basics of computer use, including e-mail and using the Internet. In return, they've gotten to know the residents and hear their life stories.
"I think the students are getting a lot out of this. It's a learning experience for everyone," said Frank Victor, the superintendent of Weatherly Area School District.
Victor noted that the main mode of communication for many seniors is through handwritten letters, which is time-consuming and difficult for some older adults. It's also hard for busy family members and friends to find time to write a letter, or to convince a child to write to their grandparents.
"If you tell someone to send grandma or grandpa an e-mail, it's second-nature for them," he said. "The residents now get to communicate with friends and family more frequently." It's also simple and free to attach photos to an e-mail, which gives residents the chance to "see" family and friends more often.
The computers at Heritage Hill were purchased through a "Learn and Serve America" community service grant, which also paid for Internet access at Heritage Hill and laptops for Weatherly High School's English classes. Students use the laptops to, among other things, correspond with Heritage Hill residents.
It gives the residents practice in opening and responding to e-mails, and helps the students and residents to stay in touch.
The end of this school year will mark the end of the program's first year. The grant will pay for three years of tutoring, technology, and Internet access.
As the students reach the end of this semester, they remarked at how far the residents have come in their computer skills. While many of the residents were hesitant to use computers at first and had to be taught the basics, including how to use a keyboard and a mouse, they now boot up the lounge's computers and are logged in and browsing the Internet by the time students arrive.
"We started by teaching the residents to how use e-mail. Now we're getting more involved and they're learning more about computers and the Internet," said Erin Sarosky, a senior at Weatherly High School. She has taught residents to use Google and search for news, sports, and videos online.
"It's very rewarding. They really are interested and they want to know more," she said.
This sharing of knowledge isn't just for the seniors. The students are learning about the residents' lives and more about the educational process. Just like in the classroom, repetition and patience are important when you try to teach someone new skills.
But more importantly, the program is opening up a line of communication between two generations who might not have otherwise met.
"Based on what they search for (on the Internet), we really got to know the residents," said Krystal Alamo, a sophomore in the program. "They shared a lot of stories. I look forward to coming here."
Heritage Hill activities coordinator Debra Hauze is thrilled with the program and for the chance to bring students and seniors together to learn new skills.
"It's just great. We're getting the students and the elderly together," she said. "Our residents are excited to see them, and the kids are excited to be here. We can all learn so much from the residents, if you just sit down and take the time to talk to them. You start to develop a relationship with the person and you grow very fond of them."
She added that the program has also taught residents new skills and given them a link to the outside world, including family and friends. This makes the center seem a bit more like home, which is her ultimate goal.
"We want this community to be their home away from home," said Hauze. "We don't want them to be bored or lonely we want them to have things to do. It's never too late to learn new skills."