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Think Grandpa is out of touch? That junior is glued to his phone? STEP this way...

STEP interactive program connects seniors, students

Teens and seniors gather to chat at their monthly Saturday meeting held at the Olympia Senior Center. Conducted by volunteer teens and seniors, organizer Linda Terry said the project's goal is to encourage and facilitate conversations and interact
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Teens and seniors gather to chat at their monthly Saturday meeting held at the Olympia Senior Center. Conducted by volunteer teens and seniors, organizer Linda Terry said the project's goal is to encourage and facilitate conversations and interact

The Sharing Teens and Elders Project brings together the two groups and gets them talking — about parties, learning to drive, relationships, racism, the environment and more.

It sounds pretty simple, but STEP director Linda Terry has a grand vision.

“The whole goal of STEP is to change the social norm of aging,” she said in a phone interview. “The generations come together. We respect the elders’ wisdom, and the elders understand that the teenagers are not just looking at their phones. They deserve respect.

“Often the elders will reflect that now they have hope for the future,” she said. “They see that these are really wise kids who are in touch with reality. It’s changed how the generations view each other.”

The project has been quietly building intergenerational connections since June 2014. Last year, it became a nonprofit affiliated with Senior Services of South Sound.

On Wednesday night, STEP steps into the spotlight, hosting a screening of “Cyber Seniors” to raise money and awareness. The 2014 documentary is about teens teaching seniors the ways of the Internet, but STEP’s intergenerational bonding has thus far been decidedly low tech.

“Over all these years, I’ve never had to tell a kid to put away their phone,” Terry said.

“Teens crave conversation,” she added. In fact, she started the group with a focus on playing games, but some of the younger participants set her straight.

“One of the boys said, ‘I don’t need the games. I just like talking to them,’ ” she said. “The other kids kind of teased him about that, but then the following week one of the girls said the same thing.”

About 70 elders and 100 teenagers have participated in the monthly conversations, sharing information and ideas on topics chosen by the group members, finding out that they’re not as different as some might have thought — and just plain having a good time.

“It’s super fun,” said Paris Crawford, 17, a senior at Capital High School who’s been part of STEP since its beginning. “You get life advice, and you talk about things that you’ve gone through. It’s a learning experience all the way around but it’s a fun learning experience.”

It’s a volunteer project for the teens who participate, but Paris definitely doesn’t think of it as work. “We just go in and have a good time with them,” she said.

She’s clearly not alone in her enthusiasm. The project began with a dozen teens and a dozen elders, Terry said, and except for a few elders who have since died, all of the founding members continue to participate, with teens who’ve headed to college — including Paris’ brother Jake, 20, a student at San Diego State University — coming to meetings when they’re home on breaks.

Pat Hunter, 80, a founding member, said she and some of the other elders initially thought teenagers would ignore them in favor of looking at their smart phones.

“After a few times meeting with them and talking with them, we really congealed,” she said. “We all of a sudden realized that the myths we had about each other were totally false.

“We became friends.”

Besides meeting for chats, the group has done volunteer work, participated in Arts Walk, and collaborated with the Heartsparkle Players. Terry has since created a second group for adult women of all ages. She has more plans for next year, including an expansion to the Lacey Senior Center.

And another plan for next year does involve technology: Senior citizens will be talking via video chat with students at LUISS University in Rome. Students will have the opportunity to practice English, and the intergenerational connections will be international, too.

‘Cyber Seniors’

What: The 2014 documentary about tech-savvy teens who mentor seniors has been hailed as both heartwarming and funny. The screening is a benefit for the Sharing Teens and Elders Project.

When: 6:30 p.m. Wednesday; doors open at 6

Where: Capitol Theater, 206 Fifth Ave. SE, Olympia

Tickets: $9 general admission, $6 for seniors, students and Olympia Film Society members

More information: 360-754-6670, olympiafilmsociety.org

Also: Before the movie, there’ll be a brief presentation about STEP.

Sharing Teens and Elders Project

What: The nonprofit, affiliated with Senior Services of South Sound, connects teens and elders for conversation.

When: 11 a.m.-12:30 p.m. the third Saturday of most months

Where: Olympia Senior Center, 222 Columbia St. NW, Olympia

Tickets: Free. Teenage participants must fill out a volunteer form and attend a training before their first meeting, and elders must sign a code of conduct.

More information: 360-586-6181 ext. 108, lterry@southsoundseniors.org, southsoundseniors.org/step

Also: STEP TWO is a similar group for adult women of all ages. Meetings are 3:30-5:30 p.m. the first Sunday of most months (the next one is Jan. 8) at the Doubletree Inn, 415 Capital Way N., Olympia.

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