Students virtually visit elderly people

Iona College Students’ Virtual Visits a ‘Breath of Fresh Air’ for Willow Towers Residents

December 17

Maintaining social connections has been difficult for most people since the onset of the pandemic. Gloria Seldon, a resident of Willow Towers Assisted Living, has missed her daughter’s visits. But a new program featuring virtual visits between Willow Towers and Iona College students has put a smile on her face. Designed to offer companionship to the residents, the visits have been a lifeline during this time of heightened anxiety.

Gloria has been enjoying her weekly FaceTime visits with Hailey Kourbage, Carlie Brainard, and others, since September.

“These students are bright, ambitious, and enthusiastic,” says Gloria. “Their visits have been like a breath of fresh air! I’m telling you, women have come a long way since the 1950s. I have enjoyed our time together; it’s been just delightful. It’s nice and refreshing to see young faces.”

Some students volunteered through Iona’s Office of Mission and Ministry. Others participated as part of a service-learning project assigned to students in Aural Rehabilitation, a course in Iona’s Speech Communication Studies Department aimed at teaching students about hearing loss in children and adults. The seniors benefit from the social activity, while students gain knowledge and experience working with an elderly population.

“Pre-Covid, we did these visits in person,” notes Michelle Veyvoda, assistant professor and instructor for the class. “Though the health risks brought those visits to a halt, we wanted to continue supporting seniors, who have been particularly hard hit. So, we went virtual. There were technology challenges but that was part of the learning experience. The bottom line is that there were meaningful connections made.”

In some cases, deep friendships also were forged. Angelina DeCicco, 21, was paired with Giovanni Dilluvio. The two enjoyed getting to know each other so much that they made additional calls to each other outside of their regularly scheduled visits.

“We both spoke Italian. We talked about culture, our families, our hometowns, and so much more. I never thought we’d end up becoming friends,” says Angelina. “But one day he just called me to check in and say hello. He made me feel like I was part of his home. And I really appreciated that.”

The time spent with Giovanni was the only time Angelina spoke with an elderly adult outside of her own family. Their visits opened her eyes to new career possibilities, too. “Before I wanted to have a career providing speech therapy to children. Now I’m thinking about working with an elderly population because I enjoy it so much.”

That’s one of the outcomes Veyvoda was hoping for. “As part of their experience, we wanted the students to overcome their perceptions and biases about elderly people. Now they are all so open to working with seniors.”

For her part, Gloria was happy to have had a role in that development.

“These visits are good for us [seniors] and for the students, who don’t have many opportunities to connect with elderly people,” says Seldon. “They see that people in their 90s are still interesting and can carry on a good conversation.”