By Pyari Pathania
Dorrigo Library bustles with life on a drizzly Saturday morning. Eighty-year-old Ruth Holmes wanders in from the rain flanked by two masked television producers, a somewhat frighteningly oversized video camera, and a group of young people at her side.
At this point Ruth might as well be crowned Dorrigo’s most famous resident; already well known for her volunteer work and supportive roles in the community, she has once again attracted national attention for her involvement in the Youngster.co program. The programs co-founder, Tony Rothacker, and a group of Youngsters disperse into the library, connect up with their elders, and begin to help them tackle the (technological) issues of the day. Before you know it, Ruth has added her husband Rod as a dependent to her QR check-in!
In a world that revolves around technology, it is easy to forget a simple notion: it wasn’t always like this. We exist inside of a culture that favours the younger generations, and the whispers of prejudicial and institutionalised ageism are often so quiet that we barely even notice them. QR Codes and online ordering are just two of the modern-day technology requirements that many of us engage with seamlessly, and when New South Wales brought in mandatory QR check-ins as a response to Covid-19, we shrugged our shoulders, whipped out our smartphones, and went on with our days. All the while – an entire generation were being quietly left behind.
“Always being the little old lady or the little old man is bad for your confidence,” seventy-year-old Sue Skraszczuk of Dorrigo says. “There are already so many other things making you feel like that, and there is a whole new world around you that you’re having to beg for access to. All your friends are in the same boat, some of us don’t have grandchildren to teach us, and always having to ask for help is embarrassing. People can be arrogant.”
However, after her first session with a Youngster, Susan had a newfound confidence and a pretty spectacular smile lighting up her brilliant green eyes.
“I learnt quite a lot just in thirty-minutes,” she beamed. “James was very thorough and very professional, it’s really worthwhile that everyone can come here and feel confident, safe and respected.”
The Youngster.co program was built with the benefits of both generations in mind, initially designed to combat youth suicide by creating meaningful employment opportunities for young people, and giving them hope for the future, Tony Rothacker says.
“Coffs Coast has one of the highest youth unemployment rates in the country, sitting at around fifteen-percent. The program was designed to have an intergenerational benefit. Young people spend a lot of time on their devices and often lack face-to-face contact. Youngster.co helps these kids to learn life skills like communication, listening, and empathy. These vital skills not only benefit the Youngsters, but the elders and the broader community, too.”
Mr. Rothacker’s son, seventeen-year-old James (a Youngster), agrees.
“It’s a really rewarding experience,” he says. “You get to talk to heaps of people, learn new things, and interact with a whole other generation. The most important thing is that the elders have a good experience and learn something new … It’s also really good money,” he adds with a laugh.
Ruth Holmes was one of the very first participants of the Youngster.co program in 2020, lined up outside the library and eager to learn all she could about the ever-changing world of technology surrounding her.
“The interaction with the young people is wonderful. I’m old! And technophobic!” she laughs. “They are very good at explaining things carefully, they go over and over things, and they are very Covid conscious, too.”
Ruth also notes how the relationship is teaching for both the Youngsters and the Elders involved.
“I’ve even taught them about plant and frog identification apps! They didn’t know about them before I asked for help. They’re learning too.”
Tony Rothacker steps in to remind her that there is no age cap on being a Youngster either and that she’s getting so good with technology that she’s now even able to help her friends.
Ruth grins. “I am becoming more of a Youngster every day!”
Youngster.co has partnered with libraries all across the region to create a safe and public environment for elders to learn in. Library sessions are free for seniors, but the program also offers private sessions for $55. If you or someone you know are interested in learning more about this program – or perhaps even becoming a Youngster! – you can find further information here https://youngster.co.
Building on connection, communication, patience, and empathy, Youngster.co is not only a fantastic program for the generations, but also a reminder of some of the most important pieces of being human. Slow down, listen carefully, and be kind – always.