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Digital Grandparents

In 2009, Bobby Steinbach launched Digital Grandparents, helping seniors learn the basics of computers and overcome their intimidation of technology.

While visiting his grandmother in her retirement home, Bobby Steinbach noticed a single computer sitting idle in the common area of the facility.

“No one was using the computer because no one knew how to use it,” said Steinbach, CIS’13, a native of Chatham, N.Y. “At that moment I realized I wanted to do something about it.”

As a stipulation of the Reggie Lewis Scholarship he received, Steinbach was required to perform community service through Northeastern’s Civic Engagement Program. Helping educate senior citizens about the value of computer use and accessing the Internet seemed like the perfect fit.

“IF [SENIORS ARE] UNFAMILIAR WITH HOW A COMPUTER OPERATES AND FEEL OVERWHELMED, THEY ARE LESS INCLINED TO TRY TO LEARN ABOUT IT.”

– BOBBY STEINBACH, CIS’13

The biggest issue for seniors, Steinbach said, was their intimidation of technology.

“It’s kind of like the fear of the unknown,” he said. “If they’re unfamiliar with how a computer operates and feel overwhelmed, they are less inclined to try to learn about it.”

Steinbach launched his plan for Digital Grandparents in 2009 and enlisting the help of his mother and co-founder, Pamela Katz, to incorporate the company and obtain 501(c)(3) status. Soon after, Steinbach’s classmate and fellow scholarship recipient, Cedric McDougal, CIS’13, became Digital Grandparents’ director. The trio was joined by Julie Clegg, an accountant with non-profit experience, in 2014.

Digital Grandparents focuses on the basics of computer operation to allow for gradual familiarization. Past workshops have included instruction on booting up a computer, replacing the battery on a laptop, how to access the Internet, and using Google to search for information. Another workshop introduced seniors to social networking and gaming.

Digital Grandparents now offers one-on-one tutoring and is seeking volunteers to service clients in New York state and Boston, including Ruggles Affordable Assisted Living Community in Roxbury. Students looking to satisfy service hour requirements are welcome to apply. This semester, two students in Northeastern’s CEP program are volunteering with Digital Grandparents. Alumni are also invited to volunteer their time.

“We have requests from the Anna Bissonette House [in the South End] as well,” said Katz, “but we need more volunteers.”

Steinbach, who works as a web application and Android developer for New York City-based ticket broker Rukkus.com, has turned day-to-day operation of Digital Grandparents over to his mother. But he’s pleased with how his initiative has prospered.

“There’s a real need for an educational component like Digital Grandparents,” Steinbach said. “And I’m happy we’ve been able to provide this service.”

For more information about Digital Grandparents, visit dg-inc.org.

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