A program started locally by homegrown ISP EarthLink last year to connect high school students with senior citizens who want to take part in technology is spreading to other parts of the nation.

First launched in an Atlanta high school last fall, the GenerationLink program moved to Orlando soon after and, most recently, to Dallas earlier this month. It seeks to foster intergenerational understanding by using the Internet to forge a connection between teens and seniors.

“What better way to bring people together than through the Internet,” said Dan Greenfield, vice president of corporate communications for EarthLink. “GenerationLink gives us the opportunity to create a dialogue between teens and seniors in a way that enriches the lives of both generations.”

EarthLink and AARP Georgia first rolled out GenerationLink at North Springs High School in Atlanta last October. Senior citizens attended weekly classes taught by computer students, then polished their new skills in the computer lab at their residential facility.

Some have used email to stay in touch with faraway children and grandchildren, while others have used the Internet to explore information on healthcare and hobbies, such as reading a hometown newspaper.

A study published in February 2002 by the U.S. Department of Commerce strengthens the GenerationLink mission, Greenfield added. According to the study, teenagers are the most prolific users of the World Wide Web, while seniors over age 55 show a sharp drop in Internet use.

“What could be better than to take that eager group of Internet users…teens,” he said, “and arrange a way for them to help seniors get online?”

Helping seniors in Florida

Nowhere are there more seniors and retirees than in Florida, where EarthLink again partnered with the state AARP to begin a GenerationLink program in Orlando shortly after it did in Atlanta.

“Computers can provide an important way for seniors to communicate with family and friends,” said Bill Clark, associate state director of AARP Florida. “Through access to the Internet, individuals can be connected to new resources and — provide a critical linkage that reduces isolation and allows more people to remain independent and lead satisfying lives.”

At Orlando’s Evans High School, GenerationLink has brought 10 local seniors, ranging in age from 60 to 81, from the nearby Hal Marston Community Center to sit side by side with students for one hour a day over six weeks to teach them how to send email, surf the web and download attachments.

EarthLink is providing its high-speed Internet service to a special GenerationLink computer lab at Evans High School. In addition, EarthLink will award a $1,000 scholarship to the student who best captures “the essence of the intergenerational experience” in an essay contest following the six-week program.

“We’ve seen so much enthusiasm for this program in Orlando and Atlanta,” Greenfield said. “The seniors are eager to go online and use email, and the students are proud of their role as teacher and mentor…ultimately we’d like to bring this program to schools and senior centers across the country.”

Teaching tech in Texas

EarthLink is well on its way to expanding the GenerationLink program nationwide, having most recently launched it at three Dallas area high schools in collaboration with AARP Texas.

GenerationLink is being implemented through the Dallas Independent School District’s service learning, A Safe and Drug-Free Schools program. The program, which began April 5, inolves 30 local seniors (10 at each high school), aged 60 and above.

The participating schools are Justin F. Kimball High School, Hillcrest High School and Science/Engineering Magnet High School at The Townview Magnet Center. Senior citizen participants will come from Concord Senior Center, Cedar Crest Senior Center, Walnut Hill Recreation Center and La Voz del Ancianos.

As in Florida, EarthLink will award a scholarship to the student from each Dallas high school who best captures the essence of the intergenerational experience in an essay contest following the six-week program. Teachers at each of the three high schools selected the participating students and will lead the class.

“As a school district, we realize that our mission is not only to educate the future leaders of our community, but also to prepare better citizens for Dallas, as well as trustworthy and responsible human beings for the world,” said Mike Moses, superintendent of the Dallas Independent School District. “Collaborations such as this between EarthLink, AARP Texas and the Dallas Independent School District are a win-win situation.

The students learn about the importance of taking an active role in the community, and our community seniors benefit from the care and technical expertise of our students,” Moses adds. “There is no doubt that this is how you build character among our youth, and we applaud EarthLink for supporting this partnership.”

Start-ups meet VCs at roundtable

The Atlanta CEO High-Tech Council recently kicked off its Investors Roundtable series for 2004 with a meeting held at the Buckhead Ritz Carlton. The meeting drew a number of regional venture capitalists to see some of the city’s best seed-stage technology companies.

“The Investors Roundtable series introduces seed-stage companies to VCs in an informal setting,” said Brendan McGuire, the Council’s VP of investor relations and director of business development with Atlanta-based law firm Morris, Manning & Martin. “Seed capital is hard to come by in this market. However, while the Roundtable series could lead to the funding of one of the presenting companies, the primary objective is to help them create relationships with VCs long before their first institutional round.”

Venture capitalists from all over the Southeast also gained from the Atlanta CEO High-Tech Council’s Roundtable. They got to pick and choose which companies they wanted to track and even help.

“There are not many chances for seed-stage companies to meet informally with VCs,” said Alan Taetle of Noro-Moseley Partners. “We’re always looking for ways to help support promising young companies in the Southeast. The Investors Roundtable is a great way to meet start-ups right out of the shoot, and assist them in getting to the next level.”

Charles Curran, a partner with Virginia-based VC firm Valhalla Partners, attended the Investors Roundtable and said: “We’re keeping a close eye on the Atlanta market and the Southeast as a whole. It’s interesting to see so many exciting new companies rising to the surface.”

The next Investors Roundtables are planned for May 17, July 19 and Sept. 13. Admission is by invitation only for both presenting companies and VCs. For now, the Atlanta CEO High-Tech Council is withholding names of presenting companies because of the early-stage nature of their business plans.

EarthLink: www.earthlink.net

Atlanta CEO High-Tech Council: www.atlantaceo.org