Albuquerque startup Teeniors gained national recognition in December after the PBS-connected media organization Next Avenue named Teeniors founder Trish Lopez an “Influencer in Aging” for building direct connections between youngsters and seniors.
The startup, which Lopez launched in 2015, matches tech-savvy teenagers with seniors who need assistance in operating such devices as smartphones, iPads or computers. To date, Teeniors has helped more than 4,000 older people in New Mexico and elsewhere by empowering them with basic skills to connect to the world around them through modern technology.
In the process, it’s helping to ease the chronic feelings of isolation and loneliness experienced by many aging and elderly people, while creating newfound bonds between two different generations that often know little about each other, said Next Avenue Managing Editor Julie Pfitzinger.
“We’re very keen on promoting programs and strategies that help bring young people and older folks together, and Trish is doing that in a very innovative way with technology,” Pfitzinger told the Journal. “Isolation and loneliness are not new problems, but dealing with those issues has become even more important in the pandemic.”
Lopez is one of 12 people named to Next Avenue’s annual “Influencer in Aging” honor role for 2021. Lopez and the two founders of California-based Mon Ami (My Friend) – which uses a technology platform to bring older adults and college students together for shared activities – are Next Avenue’s three 2021 honorees in the “Connecting the Generations” category.
Inclusion on the annual list offers national, and even international, prestige, providing immense exposure through written profiles about the individuals and their organizations that are then shared across Next Avenue’s broad digital media platform.
Launched in 2012 by Twin Cities PBS in St. Paul, Minnesota, Next Avenue bills itself as the “premier national source” for high-quality, original daily content and online community engagement for older Americans. It publishes more than 800 articles annually and reaches more than 80 million people through its multiple platforms, according to its website.
“We serve national and international readers from all over the world,” Pfitzinger said. “We focus on people 50 and older.”
Next Avenue selected Lopez and Teeniors as part of its annual national search for people and organizations that employ innovative, impactful strategies to help manage issues and concerns related to aging.
It took Lopez by surprise.
“I didn’t know about the annual reward program until I was contacted by them,” Lopez told the Journal. “I’m honored to be among the people selected. And I’m particularly excited about the honor and validation it brings to our team of young people at Teeniors who are doing all the work.”
That work grew substantially during the pandemic, which heightened the need for human connections and interaction among older people, and among younger generations, following the coronavirus lockdowns in 2020, and given the continuing limits on social activity today, Lopez said. Since the start of the pandemic, demand for Teeniors’ assistance has increased more than 400%, fueled in good part by the organization’s aggressive move to provide its technology coaching-and-mentoring services online, starting in May 2020.
“COVID made us a lot busier,” Lopez said. “We’ve now worked virtually with people in 27 states.”
Most of the work, however, remains concentrated in central New Mexico, particularly in the greater Albuquerque metropolitan area, where generous grants from Facebook and other organizations have allowed Teeniors to offer free group and individual coaching and mentoring services.
Facebook, for example, provided a total of $80,000 to support Teeniors’ services in Valencia County, where the company is building a massive data center.
Comcast Corp. also donated $45,000 before the pandemic. Some of the Comcast funds were earmarked for Teeniors’ expansion into Las Cruces.
The coronavirus derailed that expansion, but the company has since received more charitable funding from other groups to push into more places in New Mexico. That includes $20,000 from Anchorum St. Vincent for a pilot program in northern communities, plus a forthcoming grant from the Non-Metro Area Agency on Aging.
That latest grant – a $76,000 donation announced in December – will finance a collaborative partnership among Teeniors and other groups to help seniors in southern Luna County and northern San Miguel County resolve issues of loneliness brought on, or aggravated by, the pandemic, Lopez said.
Since 2017, when Teeniors created a nonprofit arm for charitable contributions, a dozen different local and national organizations have granted about $212,000 for the startup to provide free group and individual services.
Teeniors continues to offer private, in-person coaching sessions for $49.95 per hour or $39.95 for virtual sessions. But Teeniors still provides free services through its for-profit operations, thanks to a $5,000-per-year contract with the City of Albuquerque, now in its second year. That contract pays for free coaching at senior and multigenerational centers around the city.
“We’ve done like 50 group workshops across Albuquerque under the contract, plus hundreds of individual coaching sessions,” Lopez said.
Nearly 200 young people have applied since 2015 to work with Teeniors, which pays them $15 an hour for individual coaching sessions and $10 for group events. About 50 youngsters have actually been hired over the years, with nearly a dozen active at any given time.
The social impact of Teeniors is multifaceted, Pfitzinger said. It empowers older adults with critical technology skills, while also introducing them to young people who they then often connect with in fundamental ways. And, for the youth, it builds confidence and exposes them to older people, facilitating intergenerational understanding and appreciation.
“That’s an awesome aspect of Teeniors,” Pfitzinger said. “It’s clearly made such a difference for both the older adults and the teenagers involved.”
Kevin Robinson-Avila covers technology, energy, venture capital and utilities for the Journal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.