When three NHS members realized that their grandparents all struggled with using technology, they decided to help local senior citizens facing similar challenges. Aaron Smolyar, a junior at Canterbury School in Fort Myers, FL, and two of his friends, Christian Laquis and Derrick Hueniken, recently wanted to do a community service project to fulfill their NHS chapter’s service requirements. Helping in this way seemed like a perfect fit. “We all had that shared experience,” Smolyar says. “This was a way to spend our time that not only was meaningful to us, but we would enjoy doing it.”
The trio approached Brookdale Senior Living, a retirement community near their school, and administrators there jumped at the idea. So, the teenagers started planning regular, publicized visits to the community, and they asked additional students to join them in helping to troubleshoot technology issues. The effort became so organized that the students formed a separate club, CLEO: Computer Literacy Education Outreach.
The club’s members do not claim to be tech experts, but they say that with the help of Google searches, they can do everything from fixing printers to setting up Wi-Fi routers. “Obviously, we all know a good amount about technology,” Smolyar says, “but we have also learned a lot by doing the club.” He says that his experience so far has included one senior handing him a flip phone to fix. Until then he had never even held one.
While the students say they enjoy working with technology, that is not what makes the activity worthwhile. “I think the values of the club go way beyond just the services hours,” Laquis says. “The relationships we make with these seniors are extremely valuable; they teach us a ton of things. They teach us lessons and stories and advice.”
Each Wednesday afternoon, student members commit to a shift at the retirement community. “We come in, and there are seniors we all know by name,” Hueniken says. “We smile at them. It is obvious some of them don’t see their families very often. There have been experiences where certain people get emotional when we are helping them because they don’t get a lot of interaction.”
The club has become so popular that the students are initiating a second location, this time at an assisted living facility, for their members to visit regularly. More and more students want to help in this way. “It’s very fun,” Smolyar says, while also providing members with communication experience and leadership opportunities.
News of the club’s popularity has spread to other high schools in Florida, and the students are now expanding CLEO’s reach beyond Canterbury School. In March, the club was even featured on CBS Evening News. “We hope to give the opportunity to anyone through NHS who wants to start their own branch and have this experience,” Smolyar says. “We are already established and have a clear path, and it’s a good organization for kids to get involved with—we are willing to talk kids through it.”
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