N.B. student pairs peers with seniors to combat loneliness amid pandemic
TORONTO -- A university student in New Brunswick is working to help connect her peers with seniors to combat loneliness amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Hannah Crouse, a third-year student at Mount Allison University in Sackville, told CTV News Channel that she realized how isolated seniors might feel during COVID-19 after helping deliver food to some nursing homes in her community.
"Every senior that I visited expressed to me how lonely they were, how they really wish that they had somebody to kind of spend time with, as a lot of them hadn't had any visitors since COVID had first begun," Crouse said in an interview on Tuesday.
Crouse explained that she spent some time visiting with the seniors, even taking the time to play card games with some, and saw how doing so instantly lifted their spirits.
While delivering food and helping put the groceries away, Crouse said she noticed a lot of the seniors’ cupboards were on the bare side.
"Unfortunately, more bare than we would ever want our seniors to have so I thought, you know what, this can't go on any longer and I wanted to do something about it," she said.
From that experience, Crouse came up with the idea to start the Community Connects program, which pairs local university students with seniors in Sackville to get together once a week to share a meal.
Pam Van Egmond, senior navigator for the group Nursing Homes Without Walls, has been helping Crouse to match the students and seniors.
"When Hannah had helped us with the food delivery then she expressed her interest in meeting up with the seniors, we called the seniors, particularly those that are living alone and may have lost a loved one, and we found [those] that would love to be able to be matched up with students," Egmond explained on Tuesday in an interview with CTV News Channel.
Crouse put out a call on social media for student volunteers from Mount Allison for the program and says she was overwhelmed with responses.
She said she was hoping to pair up at least 10 different students with 10 seniors, but doubled that goal.
"I remember the next day that I went to sleep and I was so happy we had 10 people, this was fantastic. And then I checked and we had twice as many," Crouse said.
"If I need to visit each one of these 10 seniors I would do so, [but] I was very ecstatic to know that this was equally as important to other individuals as it was myself," she added.
Crouse said there are now approximately 50 students who are looking to get involved in the program.
Since the first meeting between the students and the seniors, Egmond said the friendships between the two groups have grown.
"We had a meet and greet with the seniors, and it was very clear they engaged right away," Egmond said. "It certainly has been a hit of a program for us."
Egmond stressed that the students follow public health guidelines while visiting the seniors including wearing face masks, physical distancing and sanitizing.
While the eight-week program is now over, Crouse has asked for feedback from those involved so she can make adjustments and do the program again soon.
"I would like to use that feedback and then start up another eight-week cycle and hopefully get more of those students involved," Crouse said.
With last winter transitioning into a global health crisis, Egmond said the seniors in Sackville were lonely but Crouse's initiative has helped to shift their mood.
"Certainly the seniors you can tell some of them have been very happy to have the students come in, you can hear it in their voice when we talk to these people," Egmond said.
"They really did enjoy and do enjoy having the students and we do hope it can continue as well."