MANHATTAN, New York — Jordan Mittler has been teaching seniors in New York how to use technology for years, but he never expected he would be streaming a class about smartphones and computers on smartphones and computers.
But when the coronavirus forced the cancellation of his weekly in-person meetings, Jordan knew he couldn't abandon his students.
"Tech is very key to helping the seniors connect with their family," the 16-year-old said.
The Manhattan resident has patiently taught texting, emailing and FaceTiming to dozens of seniors for years, beginning when his grandparents first got smartphones.
Teaching them how to use apps and send messages inspired the tech-savvy teen to offer his services to more older people. At age 12, he connected with a woman at a nursing home and spent a year helping her learn how to use a computer and smartphone.
Then in February 2019, he created formal curriculum and started hosting free, hour-long sessions for seniors at his synagogue every Sunday.
Immediately, he was flooded with interested participants. Many wondered why such a class didn't already exist.
His course, spread out over 10 weeks, was an instant success. One of his favorite lessons was helping his students surprise a family member on FaceTime.
But when the coronavirus hit New York City, Jordan had to end his classes.
He wasn't sure if he could move the lessons online-- it was much easier to help students understand their devices in-person-- but he knew the importance of keeping older folks connected online.
Most of the attendees were retired or lived alone and needed to find ways to connect with family members remotely.
"It gives them somewhere to be and something to do," he said.
So he spent a week ensuring each student could use Zoom, an online video chat platform. For most of the seniors, that meant calling them individually with step-by-step instructions.
Since then, everyone has successfully connected, and online classes have been going smoothly. He's taught five online lessons so far, reworking his curriculum to include tasks relevant to life in isolation, like staying in touch with family, checking the news and playing online games.
He's also opened up his classes to anyone who wants to join and streams the videos on YouTube, hoping to reach a larger audience of older people who are stuck at home.
His project, Mittler Senior Technology, has taught Jordan the value of making intergenerational relationships. He frequently invites his teenaged friends to participate in his classes, hoping more young people will take the time to help older relatives or neighbors.
"Any kid in our generation can show their grandparents how to send an email," he said.
"It's very important... to spend as much time with them as you can."
For family members trying to help older relatives navigate the internet, Jordan has some advice.
He suggests starting with basic applications that teach the general format of a device, like email or texting. From there, it's easier to learn how to navigate more complex apps and websites.
"Patience is really key," he said.
You can learn more about Jordan's classes here.