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Davis, California

Friday, April 19, 2024

Breaking Barriers offers isolated seniors technological support and companionship during COVID-19

The new club allows Davis students to form friendships with older adults and help them carry out technology-related ambitions

Inspired by the widespread loneliness experienced by members of every generation during the COVID-19 pandemic, Breaking Barriers, founded in September 2020, is a club that aims to build lasting connections between college students and members of older generations.

Kevin Ta, a fourth-year sociology major, originally joined Breaking Barriers because he saw a need to address this loneliness and create empathetic connections between older and younger generations.

“Our initial impression was that we would find older adults who were lonely or socially isolated, and we would connect [with] them,” Ta said.

After sending pen-pal letters back and forth between partners, Ta recognized that there seemed to be an interest among the older partners to learn more about technology, but had a hard time starting since they often felt that it wasn’t theirs to use. 

“A lot of older adults kind of run away from technology because they feel like it’s not meant for them; it’s meant for the younger generations,” Ta said. “But the ironic part is that there are even people in our generation who are confused and don’t know how to use certain technology, especially since every year, I feel like there’s something new.”

Ta’s Breaking Barriers partner, a woman in her 70s, is still actively pursuing an education. In Ta’s experience meeting with his partner, he’s noticed that he himself has benefitted from the research he’s done in order to help solve her technology queries. 

“The special thing about her is that she’s still going to school […], she’s getting a master’s in writing, so a lot of times we’ll work on papers together where she’ll ask me, ‘How do I create a bibliography?’” Ta said. “Sometimes, there’s things that I don’t even know, so in that case, I do a little bit of research […] It’s both improving her skills and my skills too.”

Third-year human biology major Erica Chiu is matched with a 91-year-old woman, who, much like Ta’s partner, doesn’t let age act as a barrier to her ambitions.

“My partner is 91, and she is still actively looking for jobs, so I was able to help her with making a resume because she didn’t know how to do that,” Chiu said. “I asked her to tell me her past experiences and then I made it for her and sent it over.”

One thing Chiu wishes her generation had in common with the older generations is a similarly unbounded mindset toward the possibilities one’s future can hold, no matter the age.

“I see that they have such a passion to continue improving themselves,” Chiu said. “We probably have this mindset of, ‘I’m going to retire at 60 or 70,’ but even though they’re at that age already, they still want to continue improving themselves and keeping up with society.”

Ta said that as he has formed a friendship with his partner, his outlook on his own life “timeline” has changed.

“We always talk about, ‘When is it time to stop?’ and for her, the answer is ‘never,’” Ta said. “She goes on about, ‘I’m still trying to travel to this place, learn from this person, I’m still trying to work.’ I used to think, ‘Once you’re over 50, you should probably think about retiring,’ […] but after meeting her, 72, still actively trying to improve herself, […] it kind of extends my frame of life.”

Desmond Cheung, a third-year biochemistry and molecular biology major, noticed that when the club was successful, there came a point at which elderly partners no longer needed technological assistance.

“I’m pretty sure some of our volunteers are [having the experience] where you actually help them to the point where they don’t need much help anymore, and then what do we do from there? It’s just trying to maintain a relationship as their friends,” Cheung said.

In Chiu’s experience with her partner, the relationship they’ve formed often feels familial. 

“It’s nice to have a bond with her because personally, I don’t have a great relationship with my grandparents and so it’s really nice to have her as kind of my partner and mentor sometimes,” Chiu said. “I remember one time, before we got off the phone, I was saying bye to her and I think she accidentally said ‘Oh, love you,’ to me.”

After originally joining Breaking Barriers to offer companionship to isolated seniors, Ta came to realize that the benefits of forming a friendship across generations is beneficial to both parties.

“We just want to get the message across to older adults that it’s not a barrier that only you’re dealing with,” Ta said. “Even our generation faces [technological] barriers, and we want to get through it, not just by ourselves but with the older generation because they’re going to need it just as much as we do.”

Written by: Lyra Farrell — features@theaggie.org 


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