Technology as a Conduit to help Build Relationships

ETAG Online has great impact on the well being of older adults

When the recreation team at the Village of Erin Meadows suggested the village take a break from offering its ETAG Online computer education program through the winter months, residents voiced their displeasure. The program, the team learned, has a great impact on residents’ well being and many look forward to the bi-weekly sessions with program facilitator and ETAG co-founder, Chris Bint.

Winona Parent is one of the residents at the
Village of Erin Meadows who takes part
in the regular ETAG Online classes.

The sessions were quickly reinstated.   

"I go to the computer classes whenever they're held,” says resident Annie Sandig. “I like to type as I used to work with the Remington typewriter. It brings me back memories."

For other residents, like Anna Tempio, the classes provide an opportunity to learn how technology can help deepen connections with loved ones who don’t live nearby. “Sometimes I even thought one hour was too short to learn everything,” Anna says, “but I learned how to write an e-mail to my daughter and that was helpful."

Chris first imagined the concept of ETAG (Elder Technology Assistance Group) while volunteering to support a research study through the Sheridan Elder Research Centre in 2006. He was still a student at the University of Toronto and he quickly discovered that technology could help people continue to learn as they age while also acting as a conduit to help new relationships grow.

“It has a lot to do with the people part,” Chris says, when asked about the ETAG mission. “It has a lot to do with helping people see something they weren’t able to see or do something they weren’t able to do, so it’s a lot more about the human interaction than it is about the simple task that we’re trying to help someone do.”

Naturally, it’s rewarding when he helps someone accomplish a goal or connect with a loved one through Facebook or Skype, but it’s as rewarding when the people he’s built relationships with over the years welcome him as a friend into their home for every session.

“When I walk into some of these communities, it’s known that I’m there to fix problems, to make things happen and remove little barriers in people’s lives, so I definitely have quite positive relationships with the people that we work with,” Chris says.

Today nearly 50 volunteers a week are spread throughout the GTA combining for approximately 4,500 individual connections in the past year. Chris points out that ETAG doesn’t worry about training volunteers in the technology they are teaching, for they all come to the program with extensive experience from all walks of life.

Their training instead focuses on the relational aspects of the time they’ll spend with the people they’re supporting, and perhaps that is why the program continues to enjoy such success. It’s not just the question of how to attach a photo to an e-mail, for example; it’s about the conversation that happens as a result, the community that’s built and the connections that carry forward to bridge generations.