We’ve all seen the images of older adults suffering from social isolation and loneliness, but young people are suffering during the pandemic, too. Some, reports WBUR, even see social isolation as a bigger threat to their health than Covid-19.
“We found ourselves feeling lonely, even though we were constantly connected with phones and our families,” says Aditi Merchant, a student at UT Austin. “We imagined that for a lot of older adults, it would be significantly more difficult to find those connections.”
So Merchant and her friends founded Big & Mini, a platform that virtually connects the generations to help reduce social isolation during the pandemic. And she’s not alone.
While the pandemic continues to spread throughout the U.S., innovators — from all parts of the country and of all ages — are ushering in new ways to connect the generations, easing social isolation for both generations. They’re connecting strangers for caring calls, bringing together pen pals from different generations, and providing homework help to young people whose parents could use a break.
We hope one of these virtual, free opportunities appeals to you!
1. Hang out for mentorship and mutual connection with Big & Mini.
When Covid lockdowns began, a group of UT Austin students made it their mission to help people feel less alone. They started Big & Mini, a platform that connects older adults (“Bigs”) and youth (“Minis”) through video calls.
How it works: To sign up, create an account and read the training document. You’ll then be automatically matched with a Big or Mini who has similar interests for a video chat.
Ideal for: Older adults and youth who are interested in forming friendships across generations. To date, Big & Mini has approximately 400 users in 34 states.
Time commitment: Flexible.
2. Brighten someone’s day by becoming a pen pal with Sharing Smiles.
How it works: Individuals can sign up here. ETA staff will match you with someone of a different generation who wants a pen pal. The communication is screened by staff to ensure the safety and privacy of both writers. To sign up a group of older adults or youth, click here.
Ideal for: People of all ages who like to write letters.
Time commitment: Flexible.
3. Make a new phone buddy with DOROT’s Caring Calls.
How it works: To volunteer, complete this form, attend an online orientation, and provide two electronic references. Then you’ll be matched with an older adult.
Ideal for: Anyone age 18+ interested in building social connections with elders.
Time commitment: 30-minutes, once or twice per week.
4. Give homework help to kids and a much-needed break to parents with Eldera.
Eldera pairs kids with older adults for virtual story times, help with schoolwork, or just a friendly chat. Once younger and older people have been paired, Eldera brings them together over Zoom.
Ideal for: Kids (ages 5-15) and older adults (age 60+) who would like to bond over school work, life lessons and stories.
Time commitment: Flexible.
5. Send handwritten letters to seniors through Letters Against Isolation.
Shreya Patel, an incoming freshman at Washington University in St. Louis, and her sister Saffron, a high school sophomore, started the organization in early April with a plan to send cards to seniors at care facilities. Since then, the organization has partnered with 26 care centers across the country. Its 1,400 volunteers from 49 states and 13 countries have sent more than 14,000 cards.
How it works: Once volunteers fill out the sign-up form, they receive an automatic response with further instructions. Volunteers choose the center they would like to send letters to — they can pick one nearby or in their home states. They can also suggest partnering with facilities where a family member lives.
Ideal for: Volunteer letter-writers of all ages.
Time commitment: Flexible. Volunteers are encouraged to write as many letters as they’d like!
6. Mentor or network with a professional of a different generation through CIRKEL Up.
CIRKEL — an intergenerational platform that’s “closing the loop between generations of cool kids” — connects older and younger professionals for mentoring, networking and friendship through a new program called CIRKEL Up. (Note: CIRKEL is offering a month-long free trial with the code TRYCIRKEL. After that, it’s $49/month.)
How it works: CIRKEL interviews candidates to learn more about their personal and professional goals, as well as the topics they can teach/share with someone else. CIRKEL Up members are then introduced to someone from a different age group each month for a two-way learning exchange. Many members continue to stay in touch after the initial conversation.
Ideal for: People actively engaged in their careers who have experience to share with professionals in a different age bracket. Younger members typically have at least two years of professional experience. Older members are life-long learners who are employed, working on a project or committed volunteers. Many members tend to be in transition between jobs, careers, or returning to work from “retirement.”
Time commitment: Minimum is one meeting per month, but if the matched individuals click, they’re welcome to meet as often as they like.
7. Help foreign-born students practice conversational English through Table Wisdom.
Table Wisdom is a nonprofit that connects older adults with foreign-born students looking for professional mentoring and the opportunity to gain confidence speaking English. A new pilot, Co-video Partner Program, matches volunteers with someone from a different city who has been affected by social distancing. (During the COVID-19 crisis, there’s no fee for participating.)
Ideal for: Older adults who want to help younger people with their careers and conversational English skills.
Time commitment: Approximately 30 minutes per week.
8. Be an Academic Coach for low-income high school students with UPchieve.
UPchieve is an online platform that connects low-income high school students with volunteer academic coaches for free, virtual math tutoring, science tutoring and college counseling.
How it works: After volunteer coaches complete this short sign-up form, UPchieve sends them an email with next steps. Whenever a student needs help, volunteers receive a text notification. UPchieve ensures that volunteers are ready to work with students in each subject by providing subject-specific review materials and training on how to be a good coach.
Ideal for: Anyone with an internet connection.
Time commitment: Flexible. You can set your own schedule and update it as often as you’d like.
9. Join the Mon Ami Phone Bank and help elders isolated by Covid-19.
Mon Ami pairs college students with older adults for companionship, connection and an hourly wage. But during the pandemic, the group is matching younger people and older people for social calls, via phone or video. They’ve also partnered with the City of San Francisco and Los Angeles Council District 4, which are now using Mon Ami’s volunteer management platform for Covid-19 emergency response.
How it works: Sign up to be a volunteer or request one with Mon Ami’s Phone Bank here. After being screened, volunteers receive opportunities to make a match through Mon Ami’s app.
Ideal for: Anyone who would like to make a new virtual friend.
Time commitment: Volunteers are asked to call the older adult they’re matched with 1-2 times a week for about 30 minutes per call, and to commit to at least three months of regular contact.
10. Share your career advice with underrepresented youth through CareerVillage.org.
CareerVillage.org connects underrepresented youth with professionals who volunteer to answer their career-specific questions.
How it works: Volunteers create a profile here and specify the types of questions they would like to answer. CareerVillage.org sends a notification by email when a student has a question that’s a good fit for the volunteer’s skills or experiences.
Ideal for: Professionals of all ages who would like to share career advice and help democratize access to this information for low-income youth. The site currently has over 4 million learners and 65,000 volunteers from 190 countries.
Time commitment: Flexible.
If you’re still looking for the perfect fit, check out other sites, including: