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Teenagers help seniors learn how to use technology — and form friendships along the way

Teens help seniors learn how to use technology
Teens help seniors learn how to use technology 02:37

The residents at Brookdale Senior Living have a wealth of wisdom, but there are some gaps in that knowledge. Most notably: how do you work a cell phone? 

Everything from turning on devices to receiving emails to finding relevant applications posed trouble for the residents, until a group of computer savvy Gen-Zers marched in with a plan to save the day. 

A few years ago, some students at Canterbury School in Fort Myers, Florida, were joking about how bad their grandparents were with technology, and when the laughter faded, Aaron Smolyar was struck with an idea. 

The CLEO volunteers come once a week, to the delight of residents.  Steve Hartman / On The Road

Smolyar, along with friends Christian Laquis and Derrick Hueniken, developed CLEO, which stands for "Computer Literacy Education Outreach." They tried to partner with Brookdale, but an email went unanswered, so the intrepid teens went to the center — which is right next to their school. 

"It's before we could drive, so we just walked over after school," Smolyar said. 

They've been volunteering ever since, showing seniors how to connect using technology. Jonathan Smith, a resident at Brookdale, said he couldn't figure out how to text a picture until one of the CLEO kids explained it to him. 

The volunteers also helped Nancy Kirkpatrick clear out her inbox, which was chock-full of emails — over 122,000 unread messages. 

A volunteer helps Nancy Kirkpatrick clean out her inbox. Steve Hartman/On The Road

Residents have called the kids everything from "amazing" to "a blessing," praising "the great group" for everything they've done. 

The group comes by once a week, and in addition to solving tech problems, they're building relationships with residents, meaning that the communication continues even when the devices go dark, proving that as, a communication tool, smart phones always work best powered off. 

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