High School Students Reach Out to Retirees

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The pandemic had a silver lining. We all learned the importance of social interaction to our mental health and well-being.

That’s why recent efforts by high school students to connect with seniors are so encouraging.

Consider what siblings Lorenzo and Arianna Martinelli did. As high school students in Kentucky during the pandemic, they organized weekly 30-minute phone conversations between older adults and students to share stories and build connections over time.

Another high school student, India Ratha in Minnesota, helped to organize Sounds of Sunday. The program brings music students to nursing homes to perform for the residents. Vienna Rivard’s idea was to start a book club with older women in Hopkinton, Mass., to discuss feminist literature.

They were among the high school students who received $5,000 college scholarships from the MIT AgeLab, with support from AARP Massachusetts, for programs that “strengthen social ties within communities and facilitate knowledge transfer between younger and older adults.”

The high school students’ initiatives are important because older people become vulnerable to social isolation as they lose their daily connections at work, lose friends to illness or death, or become homebound due to disabilities. These intergenerational initiatives give seniors something critical to their well-being, because research has shown that social interaction improves their physical, cognitive and emotional health and gives them a sense of purpose.

I’d also like to give a shout-out to a program for undergraduates at Tufts University just outside Boston. The university pairs up students with seniors who live in a nearby assisted living facility, including my 88-year-old mother.

She looks forward to seeing her student and telling stories about growing up, traveling in the military, and her great granddaughters. It brings a little sunshine into her life.

Squared Away writer Kim Blanton invites you to follow us @SquaredAwayBC on X, formerly known as Twitter. To stay current on our blog, join our free email list. You’ll receive just one email each week – with links to the two new posts for that week – when you sign up here.  This blog is supported by the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College.