Giving Back

Teen Teaches 99-Year-Old WWll Veteran To Use A Smart Phone

Griffin Faecher of Berkeley Heights taught 99-year-old Howard Wheaton how to use a smart phone, thanks to the Teen Tech Support program at Sage Eldercare. Credits: Cindy Potters
Student, Hayward Wheaton, left, thanks to the help of his teacher, Griffin Faecher, mastered his smart phone after only a few lessons. Griffin volunteers with Sage Eldercare's Teen Tech Support. Credits: Cindy Potters

SUMMIT, NJ –  Sitting and speaking with Hayward Wheaton at his home in Scotch Plains is like taking a step back in history. On October 30 Hayward will turn 100, and is hoping to celebrate with a small party and a big chocolate cake.

Originally from Jersey City, Hayward can remember when he made $60 a month working as an elevator operator, when the mailman came twice a day (stamps were two cents) and when making a phone call required a live operator’s assistance. He shares stories of serving in the army during WWll and working, in part, as a laborer digging graves for both German and American soldiers. The day the Holland Tunnel opened, Hayward walked through it. He can remember life pre-television and how much he enjoyed using his HAM radio to communicate with people all over the world.

He recalls with gratitude his grandmother paying for him to go to college ($9 per credit when he began) and graduating from New York University in 1948. He became a physical therapist and enjoyed a long and successful career. He learned to fly planes in the 1960’s and took up golf in the 1950’s. Just last year he was awarded “Most Inspiring Player” at Galloping Hill Golf Course in Clark.

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“Inspiring” is a word that suits him well.

Not one to stay idle for very long, Hayward recently decided to turn in his flip phone for a new smart phone. Learning to use it has been a challenge. “It’s smarter than I am,” he said, “And overwhelming.”

To help older adults like Hayward sort out their smart phone angst, SAGE Eldercare has a free program called Teen Tech Support, which teams a tech savvy teenager with an older adult to offer help including: how to place a call, how to text, find email, use FaceTime, load apps and more.

SAGE Volunteer Coordinator, Amy Stuart started the program earlier this year after a number of SAGE clients told her the trouble they were having with their phones. “One client has a smart phone, but continues to use her flip phone because the process of learning to use these devices can be so overwhelming and intimidating,” she explained. Response to the program has been overwhelmingly positive. Volunteers either go to the adult’s home or assist in group sessions at SAGE.

Hayward was tutored at his home by eighth grade Pingry student Griffin Faecher of Berkeley Heights. After two sessions, he said he was comfortable making and receiving calls, texting and taking photos. “He was great,” Hayward said of his 14-year-old teacher. For Griffin, the experience of working with a WWll veteran was exciting and mutually beneficial. “It was amazing. I was shocked when I went back the second time and he had mastered everything from our first session. I couldn’t believe that someone who is almost 100 would want to learn to use a cell phone,” said Griffin. He noted that of all the community work he has done, this felt different. “Sometimes the work can feel impersonal, but with this I can see the impact of what I’m doing.”

To learn more about SAGE’s Teen Tech Support call 908-598-5548 or email



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