Family Tech Connect Helps Seniors Use Their Smartphones, Gadgets

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Barbara Larson walks for her health, but logging her distance is a requirement of the group she joined.

When the Fitbit watch she uses to track her walks quit working properly, she knew where to bring it to get it working again.

Larson is a regular at the free technology mini clinic sessions at the First Presbyterian Church on Wick Avenue provided by Family Tech Connect chief operating officer Vince Bevacqua.

Fixing her Fitbit watch required several steps – installing the app on her new phone, setting up a personal Gmail account, recovering her password for her Fitbit account, shutting it off and restarting it – all steps Bevacqua helped to walk Lawson through.

“There’s no way I could have done all of this myself,” Larson said as they worked on the watch together. In the past, Larson has set up her laptop and her tablet with Bevacqua’s assistance as well.

“I’ve always used a computer, but I’m not technical,” Larson says. “I have a hard time understanding this stuff. We need to learn how to use devices and a lot of us have them. But we cannot use them because we don’t understand them.”

Larson uses the Family Tech Connect service both at the church and in the community where she lives to improve her understanding. She had younger family members set things up for her in the past, including that Fitbit watch, but when something goes wrong she is stuck.

“They lied when they said that computers were going to make our lives easier,” quipped Betsy Caro, another regular who returned with questions about her smartphone, as well as a request to return to using a flip phone. She prefers making telephone calls as opposed to trying to text on the tiny keyboard, but she does like the photos her smartphone takes.

Caro proudly noted that she figured out why her smartphone alarm was no longer loud enough to hear, but at the same time expressed frustration as to how the setting was changed to silent in the first place.

One of her questions involved a weather app that stopped giving her the correct temperature for her location. Bevacqua helped her choose another app to replace it. He also answered questions about SIM cards, data usage and where to find a screen shot after you take it.

Peggy Evans, another regular, says she encourages her friends to come for the mini clinics, especially friends who are uninformed about upcoming events because they do not use email.

“They don’t realize it, but it’s going to pass them by because you can’t do anything,” Evans says. “Everything is email. Everything is text.”

There are a couple of reasons seniors may struggle with technology, according to Bevacqua. They did not grow up with it and many did not work with it before they retired. Even a retired engineering professor he knows who built computers in the 1980s now needs help with his cell phone.

“The technology has changed so much,” Bevacqua said. “Seniors are caught in this digital divide where they don’t understand how these devices work and they’re frustrated by their attempts to learn, because there just hasn’t been a good resource for them.”

Family may offer to help, but also can be abrupt with each other. Bevacqua says the key is to go slowly and repeat concepts. Evans and the others ask questions at the mini sessions and learn from each other.


Bevacqua and his sons, Lucas and Neil, started Family Tech Connect during the pandemic after Bevacqua was struggling to make a Zoom call with his college-educated parents in Florida. If it were not for a nephew living in their area, the connection would never have been made.

“Seniors are terribly underserved when it comes to tech and we have a larger than average senior population in this area,” Bevacqua says.

Family Tech Connect addresses tech problems with smartphones, smart TVs, computers, tablets, home assistants like Google or Alexa, printers, routers and more.

“I try really hard not to say no,” Bevacqua says, adding if a senior has a device he is unfamiliar with, they will research it and look for a solution.

Instead of charging seniors for their services, Family Tech Connect obtained funding through Direction Home of Eastern Ohio, the Mahoning County Board of Commissioners and the city of Youngstown. The business provides free services to people 60 and older in Mahoning, Trumbull, Ashtabula and Columbiana counties.

Help includes one-on-one coaching in someone’s home by appointment. They set up new devices and troubleshoot when something stops working. Bevacqua said they talk with seniors about good safety practices, such as not opening strange emails, not clicking on unknown links, protecting personal information and not using public Wi-fi when doing banking or other financial transactions.

They also answer questions when seniors are considering a first purchase or replacing a device, advising them on what may fit their needs. When the device arrives, Bevacqua encourages the buyer to leave it in the box until Family Tech can help them set it up.

Bevacqua has teamed up with Paige Fortner of the Senior Support Action Group to provide another free service, Echo Dots through Amazon. Seniors 60-plus with Wi-fi and with an income at or below 200% of the poverty level qualify to get them and Bevacqua sets them up at their homes.

More than just adding enjoyment to their lives as they listen to music, the weather or other options, The Echo Dot is a proven life-saver.

Fortner encourages seniors to provide her with up to five emergency contacts, which she programs into the device before they receive it. One woman later fell while living alone and – from the floor – was able to request her Echo Dot call for help.


Bevacqua says being connected to technology allows seniors to use the telehealth options many doctors offer for nonemergency visits and follow-ups. Meals and groceries can be delivered to those with mobility issues and those who still drive can use the order ahead and pick up option at stores.

According to the National Council on Aging, the pandemic illuminated the increasing numbers of people aging in place and facing social isolation and loneliness.

The council cites studies showing social isolation and loneliness puts people at greater risk for high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, a weakened immune system, anxiety, depression, cognitive decline, Alzheimer’s disease and death.

“Seniors living in social isolation are at greater risk of premature death,” says Bevacqua.

With so many families communicating by text these days, teaching a senior how to text and how to use the voice to text function on their phone reestablishes their connections with loved ones. And you can tell Bevacqua enjoys what he does.

“It’s been a wonderful experience because the clients are awesome,” he says. “I can say I just enjoy spending time with them.”


Those needing the service do not need to know how to text or email. They can simply call 330 708 2992. Everyone gets a return phone call. Most can get help within a week.

Services are offered through partnerships among the Scope Center, Briarfield, and Shepherd of the Valley, as well as every Tuesday at 10 a.m. at the First Presbyterian Church on Wick Avenue, which is open to the public.

Seniors attending the mini clinics are encouraged to bring their device with them.

Those seeking Echo Dots through can Senior Support Action Group can call 330 424 7877 and press option 2.

Pictured at top: Vince Bevacqua helps Barbara Larson set up her Fitbit watch. Bevacqua’s company holds free tech services for seniors.