It's been nearly 10 months of social distancing, virtual hangouts in lieu of in-person meetings and back-and-forth orders that have called for residents to stay indoors. Such a dramatic change in lifestyle has been especially hard on seniors who have been forced to cut off a lot of communication.
To help a vulnerable population combat isolation, one group of students has been making sure to keep in contact with them throughout the pandemic, forming some pretty remarkable friendships along the way as well.
The program started in April after a University of San Diego professor came up with the idea. In it, USD counseling graduate students made regular wellness calls to seniors and from there, the program grew. Now, it connects nearly 100 seniors who may otherwise feel lonely.
When the stay-at-home order first began in March, St. Brigid Parish in Pacific Beach and the USD's Dr. Wendell Callahan, who is also a member of the parish, worked together to find a way to stay connected to their community of elderly members.
Callahan was able to find USD counseling graduate students to volunteer their time to make regular wellness calls to some of the parishioners to make sure they had everything they needed during the pandemic.
It began as an educational opportunity and a positive way to connect to others who may really need to hear a comforting voice. Since then, it has grown to so much more.
“While we’ve been sort of quarantined, we’ve been isolated so having these weekly phone calls are very important because you get that human connection, even though it’s not face to face," said Teodora Dillard, a USD graduate student for School-Based Clinical Counseling. "Knowing that I’m going to be talking to someone, anyone every week, and especially Eileen because she’s wonderful, has been a highlight of my week to be able to do that." explained Teodora Dillard, USD graduate student for School-Based Clinical Counseling, who speaks weekly to St. Brigid senior citizen parishioner, Eileen Ward.
Dillard has weekly phone calls with St. Brigid senior citizen parishioner, Eileen Ward, who added that the chats are a highlight of her week. She told NBC 7 the topics they discuss keep her tuned in to what's going on in the world.
“Everything from current events, which begins to be kind of unilateral as a subject. COVID, COVID, COVID. Also political things," Ward said of the things she and Dillard discuss. "We talk about the connectedness we have with the connection that has been made through St. Brigid’s Church. We talk about the daily doings."
Ward and Dillard both added that even after stay-at-home orders are no longer mandated, they will still keep their weekly phone calls going, because they enjoy them so much.