BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - It’s an unlikely pairing: teens whose phone seems to be a part of their arm and seniors who ushered in the black rotary-dial telephone. If the grunts and giggles, and the clicks and beeps pouring from the day room at St. James Place Retirement Community are any indication, this one is a success.
On the second Tuesday of every month, JROTC cadets from Lee High School make the quarter-mile trip from campus to St. James Place to teach residents there how to use their cell phones.
“It’s SO complicated,” lamented an exasperated Ro Dunn. “I have a camera that takes pictures of me when I’m not looking," Dunn said. “Like up my nose and mouth.”
Dunn’s old phone died on the way here from Maine. Her new smart phone has many more features than she needs or uses. “They know exactly what to get rid of here, yet I can keep the things I need,” she said. “It’s been wonderful; it’s been enlightening, and there is hope!”
Each cadet pairs up with a senior to answer questions and walk them through the basics of their phone. Many start at the very beginning, like unlocking the phone, creating passwords, and texting. After a couple visits, many of the seniors can use video calls like FaceTime.
It began as a service learning project for cadets, who plan, execute, and then reflect on their time with the residents. “They think about it,” said Col. William Laigaie, US Army (Ret.), who runs the JROTC program at Lee High. “What impact did this have on me? On our community? On the folks that we serve? There’s training, but there is also a lot of sharing going on."
“I love hearing about perspectives that a lot of people disengage from,” said Cadet Sheubheksha Acharya. And that’s what makes the classes special. The learning goes both ways.
Cadet Gabrielle Wiggins agrees. “We get our eyes opened a little bit about how lucky we are to be living in this generation.” It may have started out as a service project, but for many, it has become a passion. “It’s great,” Wiggins continued. “You hear a cadet say, ‘I remember this person’s name. I remember where they sit. Just let me go already. I want to go help them. I want to see, did what I do last time help them?’”
“You meet with these people once a month,” Acharya said, “So you get to know them. And you talk with them and joke around. You essentially build a relationship.”
That relationship reaches past just cell phones. Many cadets share contact information with residents and keep in contact between visits. They have also marched in the residents' Mardi Gras parade.
Veterans from St. James Place have joined the cadets for Veterans Day ceremonies at Lee High. “It’s teaching them that service is a very important part of life,” Col. Laigaie said.
When is the last time you heard a cell phone blamed for something like that?