McMaster students and seniors become pen pals to combat pandemic loneliness

Published May 27, 2021 at 1:05 pm

The dangers of loneliness have been well documented.

For seniors, loneliness has been found to pose just as great of a health risk as obesity, smoking, and alcoholism. Factor in the COVID-19 pandemic and loneliness becomes an epidemic in itself.

However, students at McMaster University have done their best to mitigate senior loneliness as part of a new program developed by a campus charity.

Through Seniors Connect, students have written over 2,000 letters and produced a series of wellness videos for seniors living at CityHousing Hamilton and Shalom Village.

“During the pandemic, we increased our capacity by 50 per cent to address the critical needs in the community at this time,” says Jeff Druery, community life facilitator at Student Open Circles (SOC) in an interview with McMaster’s Daily News. “After much consultation with local social service agencies in spring 2020, we identified isolation among seniors as a key need.”

In a typical year, SOC says it engages more than 300 students who give more than 10,000 hours.

With the charity’s increase in capacity, approximately 400 weekly volunteers gave 15,000 hours over the fall and winter terms.

One of the letters sent by a McMaster student volunteer to an older adult in the community through the Seniors Connect program. (McMaster University/Student Open Circles)

Brenda Silverthorne, community development coordinator at CityHousing Hamilton says her team has received glowing feedback from seniors who have received letters or watched the video series.

“This partnership was key to addressing social isolation felt by our seniors during these uncertain times,” Silverthorne told McMaster’s Daily News. “The students were so creative in their letters and there was an amazing range of topics for the video series, from brain teasers to art activities.”

The wellness videos, meanwhile, gave students an opportunity to bridge the intergenerational gap and rediscover their creativity.

100 students were part of the Seniors Connect initiative.

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