Saddened to see the isolation and vulnerability seniors are experiencing during the pandemic, a group of University of Guelph students have come together to support them.
The organization Students Supporting Seniors is made up of members who have witnessed first-hand the challenges seniors in hospitals, retirement homes and long-term care facilities face.
Most of the students are in health-related programs at U of G and are planning to enter fields related to senior care.
“We have all been touched by the seniors in our lives, in our families and in our volunteer work,” said Subah Mujahid, a fifth-year biological science student. “During the pandemic, seniors have become really isolated. We thought, why not form a club to help ease their isolation?”
Students inspired by experience
The COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately affected seniors, bringing to light deficits in the systems created to care for them, said Andrea Pace, a biomedical science student.
The well-being of seniors is something Pace cares deeply about. While in high school, she was a volunteer in patient rehabilitation at an Oakville hospital. There, she saw how many seniors faced depression after losing their independence and mobility.
“That really made me want to become a geriatrician or physician assistant, so that I could make a difference in the lives of seniors,” she said.
A main goal of Students Supporting Seniors is to lessen the gap between students and seniors by increasing understanding between the two demographics and creating opportunities for them to connect.
Samiha Kazi is a biomedical toxicology student. As a volunteer at Homewood Health in Guelph, she learned how important companionship and a listening ear are to seniors who are experiencing isolation from their families and the broader community. Loneliness and isolation, she said, are a major health risk for them.
“When I saw that the co-founders of Students Supporting Seniors were recruiting people, I signed up because I saw the group as a way to help mitigate the side-effects of loneliness and isolation,” Kazi said.
During the pandemic, the organization has been working hard to improve the lives of seniors in the Guelph community, raising awareness of their needs and advocating for them. During the winter break/holiday season, members raised money to create care packages for seniors in the community. The packages contained needed items like lip balm, hand lotion and diabetic socks, as well as various craft items and sweets.
The group also created both digital and handmade holiday cards with personalized messages for residents in local retirement homes and long-term care, including Norfolk Manor and The Elliott Community.
Advocacy through social media
“I have a real passion for helping seniors,” said Divya Vurrabindi, a fourth-year biomedical science student who also wants to work in geriatrics after graduation. She has been a volunteer at the Guelph General Hospital, assisting seniors with dementia.
“I saw how lonely they were, and I was very moved and inspired by that,” she said. “I’ve been changed by learning of their experience and from the wisdom they have shared. It has been really rewarding.”
Vurrabindi added that being a part of Students Supporting Seniors is a joyful experience, one where she is uplifted by advocating for seniors while helping to improve their lives.
Some of the group’s advocacy work takes place on social media. Its Instagram page shares wisdom from seniors, highlights group activities and features profiles of group members and inspirational statements from them.
In a video on the account’s profile, Guelph Mayor Cam Guthrie praised the work the group has done.
Kazi said the mayor’s support for Students Supporting Seniors increased recognition of the club and prompted collaborations on events and initiatives with organizations within the University and with community members and local businesses.
“I hope we’ve had an impact,” Mujahid said. “It has been so heart-warming to see the reaction of seniors when they open the care packages. They appreciate it so much. And many of them have sent us cards, emails and photos in return.”
The members say they have been inspired to continue their work and they hope many others will join them in the effort. They envision a time when chapters of the group will start up at other universities.
The organization is currently looking to connect with local businesses who would like to take part in the initiative and donate items to be included in future care packages. It is also planning virtual events such as bingo nights, group exercises and art workshops, as well as fundraising events like talent nights and candy grams.
Once the pandemic situation improves, Kazi said, Students Supporting Seniors hopes to hold in-person events, on and off campus, to further connect students with seniors.
Students Supporting Seniors