College Students Make Calls to Senior Citizens Isolated By Covid-19




Living in social isolation is not easy for anyone. When there's no choice about the matter, a simple gesture can make all the difference. In San Diego, one professor at the University of San Diego has reported their results of a college project they started when the pandemic began. This wellness program began last April. Its goal is to help college students befriend senior citizens.

About the University of San Diego Wellness Program


In April 2020, Dr. Wendell Callahan noticed that his church parish had a lot of isolated seniors. Dr. Callahan is a professor at the University of San Diego. That month, the university's counseling graduate students began to make regular wellness calls to the elderly parishioners. The students asked if the elderly people had everything they need to stay at home during the pandemic.

How the Calls Helped One Elderly Person


Eileen Ward, who is 81 years old, began receiving calls from students in April. One student who called her is Teodora Dillard. Dillard said that the calls were designed to reduce feelings of isolation. Dillard and Ward have become friends. They noted their common religious beliefs and their similar personality traits. Ward noted that it's nice to see a person. She added that she looks forward to her weekly calls with Dillard. Ward added that one of the benefits of the digital age is that people can see each other's faces. Before platforms like Zoom, people could only hear each other's voices. For her, seeing Dillard's face makes a big difference in her day.

How the Program Got Started


Ward is a member of St. Brigid Parish. There are 40 elderly parishioners who asked to be a part of the weekly calls with students from the University of San Diego. The students initially saw the wellness program as an educational opportunity. It quickly turned into a positive way to connect with senior citizens and form new friendships. Both the students and the seniors have benefited from their weekly conversations. In times like this when active college students aren't easily able to have gatherings like they usually would, and seniors also can't attend their typical activities, these calls fill in for some of the missing social interactions.

Ward Describes How the COVID-19 Quarantine Has Affected Her


Ward said that the quarantine has required a lot of adaptations. She added that the conversations she has enjoyed with Dillard have been enjoyable. They've been much more than small talk about the weather or what she's having for dinner. Ward said that the conversations are close and meaningful. She added that they've been even easier than in the past when she's visited a friend and distractions, such as a barking dog, get in the way of communicating. Dillard agreed with Ward's assessment.

How the Students Are Helping Identify the Seniors' Needs


Seniors who are used to doing their own shopping and errands haven't been able to accomplish all of this while at home and on quarantine. The students make a point to ask each senior if they have everything they need to keep staying at home. They also ask the seniors if they need any help with their internet or maintenance around the house.

What Ward Hopes for the Future


Ward was a humanities professor for 37 years. She said that taking the time to learn about each other is helping people get through these tough times. She added that hope for the future is a requirement in order to get through these circumstances. Dillard is working on a graduate degree in school-based clinical counseling. She calls several elderly people once per week. A few receive bi-weekly calls. Dillard added that it is a nice break to have a person-to-person interaction between logging into classes, doing research and writing papers. She said that being able to call between four and eight people each week and make connections with them has been helpful to her own mental health. It helps her practice better self-care, too.

What the Wellness Program Entails


Students who sign up to be part of the wellness program are asked to commit to calling seniors throughout the entire academic year. There is no end date to the program, so it might continue even after the COVID-19 pandemic comes to an end through a combination of natural immunity and vaccination. Both Dillard and Ward plan to remain connected as long as they can.



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