‘Lifelong friendship’: VCU program helps combat loneliness through weekly calls between students and seniors

Positively Richmond

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — A program at Virginia Commonwealth University is hoping to combat loneliness brought on by the pandemic by forming friendships between students and seniors in the community.

They’re making it possible through weekly calls.

“It’s been a thing I look forward to every week,” Miranda Savioli, a VCU medical student said.

The program is run by students involved with the American Geriatrics Society and pairs medical and health science students with seniors in the community.

VCU education administrator for the School of Medicine, Chuck Alexander, says it was formed to combat loneliness and give students valuable interaction with that age group – something that’s been missing since training programs stopped earlier this year.

“It’s mostly just social – just chatting it up,” Alexander said. “A lot of times they just need someone to talk to. A lot of times they feel that they have a connection with someone who’s younger who is just entering this new phase in their career and they have wisdom to impart on them – medically and socially as a friend.”

So far, the all volunteer program has paired around 40 students with seniors.

Every week, Savioli video calls retiree Joan Kerby, who lives in a retirement community in Henrico.

“It’s a really good connection because in lockdown you really don’t have long conversations with anybody,” Kerby told 8News.

Those long conversation soon turned into a visit. The two decided to meet in person back in November, and Kerby says it was a special moment.

“It was just wonderful,” Kerby said. “We talked for two hours. We probably could’ve gone on longer but we had to stop.”

Savioli and Kerby meeting for the first time back in November.

Savioli says they plan to keep the program going, and encourages others to pick up and phone and call a loved one who may be isolated.

“It was developed to help seniors with isolation, but I mean, we all got isolated during this pandemic,” Savioli said. “It’s been nice to talk to someone every week.”

The group has no plans to stop the program.

“We’re going to keep the program going and as for Joan and I, we established ourselves as lifelong friends,” Savioli said.

Anyone interested in connecting a loved one with the program, can email vcugeriatrics@gmail.com  or call ‪(804) 362-7865‬ and leave a voicemail.

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