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NRV COVID companions connect with older adults during pandemic

Published: Mar. 16, 2021 at 10:47 PM EDT
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BLACKSBURG, Va. (WDBJ) - Connecting with others over the past year has been very difficult for some people, especially older adults. A new program launched by students at Virginia Tech is providing a buddy system, connecting the younger and older generations.

A group of Virginia Tech students called the COVID Companions is buddying up by keeping in touch and teaching older adults about technology. The companions typically have conversations once a week for about an hour with their buddies.

“They really saw a need for older adults in the New River Valley,” Emily Hoyt said.

Hoyt and Laura York jumped at the chance to help the health department on campus and the NRV Task Force to fill this need.

“Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, a lot of older adults have been feeling isolated in their homes,” Hoyt said. “We saw this as an opportunity to try to mitigate that and try to create community connections between younger people to older adults.”

“It’s nice to have something to look forward to every week,” Willie Anderson said.

Anderson was partnered up with Niema Smith.

“She’s really fun to work with and she’s really funny so she makes it a lot easier for me,” Smith said. “Anything I can do to make her feel like she’s seen and heard is very important to me.”

“[The pandemic] is very isolating and we were created to be social beings, so it’s been very difficult for a lot of us to just sit and not do anything,” Anderson said.

The COVID Companions do just that, from the phone calls to teaching them about how to use technology. They were able to buy 30 tablets and are handing them out, free of charge. This is to help the older adults connect, even with people far away.

“We collectively thought that providing tablets and technology and assistance with those tools could increase some health outcomes for our beloved older adults in the community,” York said. “This has given us a real-life experience on using our education to get out in the community and provide such a service that is needed especially during this time.”

The relationships benefit the students and their buddies.

“It really makes my day when I talk to her and she talks about how just a simple conversation can make her day, and one time she even said it made her week so that was really cool to hear,” Kirin Anand, Bertha’s companion, said. “I really think this program is mutually beneficial, which I didn’t realize going in. Bertha has helped me so much. She’s extremely wise and I’ve learned a lot from her. She’s an awesome person and I’ve really gotten a lot out of this.”

“We love that the community has been so open about our program,” Volunteer Coordinator Callyn Niesen said. “It’s not just students reaching out to the population, but also middle aged and other adults, and it makes us happy”

COVID Companions has gotten a lot of interest from volunteers, so that they had to temporarily put that on hold, but they do encourage you to reach out if you want to help because more opportunities are coming up soon.

You can connect with them on their Facebook page NRV COVID Companions or the VT Center for Gerontology.

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