During the first couple weeks of the pandemic, I reconnected with my professor and mentor from my undergraduate studies. In the months prior, we had texted and talked about meeting up for dinner or happy hour on various occasions. Busy schedules and long lists of commitments prevented us from getting together.
Upon reconnecting, we discussed how we were feeling, the at-home hobbies we had picked up to stay busy, and recommendations for online classes that might be of interest to one another. We shared a short and meaningful conversation via text, and promised that we would get together in the future when we can.
The next day, I received another text message from my mentor regarding a virtual volunteer opportunity idea she had been stewing over. With an educational background in sociology and criminology, a commitment to research, a strong dedication to the local community, and a heart of pure gold, it came as no surprise to me that she would find a way to give back during a crisis. In her line of work, she has always made time to partner with community organizations, support those in need, and offer unparalleled support to those around her. Her ability to quickly adapt and respond to the crisis with giving back in mind is admirable, to say the least.
A few days later, we talked through her silly virtual volunteer opportunity idea on a Zoom call. Not surprisingly, her idea was far from silly at all. She wanted to organize a local group to connect college students/young professionals with seniors in living facilities to combat loneliness while simultaneously creating meaningful relationships. We discussed the idea of coordinating weekly phone or video calls between the volunteer group and senior citizens, and just how impactful this program could be, now more than ever. In recent years, studies have indicated that younger generations are lonely. Not surprisingly, there is a large amount of research on senior citizens feeling lonely and the implications that loneliness has on their health. With these focus groups in mind, we began discussing the vision for this program and the skills each of us could provide to get it off the ground.
Over the last couple of weeks over many Zoom calls, we’ve sorted through the logistics, legality, and coordination of our virtual volunteer program. We’re tapping into our networks to make connections to senior living facilities and young professionals in our local community, finalizing documents for volunteer participation, and are preparing to roll out the program as soon as possible. In the short-term, we hope to combat the exacerbated loneliness being felt as a result of social distancing due to the pandemic. In the long-term, we hope that this virtual volunteer program extends into the future far beyond the coronavirus pandemic, and allows us to connect younger generations with senior citizens in an ongoing manner. Although it might be far down the road, we hope to host in-person meetups in the future, to enhance these virtual relationships when it is safe to do so.
We’ve used our skills, knowledge, and resources to act upon an idea and identified a way to give from afar. Even though she’s no longer my professor, I continue to learn as her student. Our lessons were once textbook focused and pre-determined by educational requirements, but today I’m learning life lessons on thinking outside of the box, being brave enough to run with an idea, and how to spread generosity and kindness in a world that feels clouded by chaos.