Intergenerational buddies

Students combat loneliness with bracelets, letters

JMU in the Community

SUMMARY: JMU students sent encouraging messages to residents at a local senior living community to remind them they are remembered as the COVID-19 pandemic limits human connection.

By Janet Smith (’81)

“Laugh often,” “kindness” and “UR not alone” are among the encouraging messages 11 James Madison University students recently shared with an equal number of residents at a local senior living community. The words were sent via friendship bracelets to “senior buddies” at the Virginia Mennonite Retirement Community.

The connection project was organized by RISE U, an officially recognized JMU organization affiliated with RISE, a United Methodist faith community, according to Christine Jones, college and connections coordinator of RISE.

“College students are feeling discouraged,” Jones said. “I’ve found that the thing that universally helps is reaching out to help others.”

RISE U intern Ashlyn Johns (’20) helped plan and market the event, including making sure the student volunteers had stationery and bracelet-making supplies in time for the Oct. 24 virtual event. Johns, who double majored in communication studies and Spanish, is a JMU graduate student in the communication and advocacy program, with a focus on environmental communication.

She, Jones and the JMU students gathered via Zoom to discuss the science of loneliness with JMU psychology professor Natalie Kerr, write letters to the VMRC residents who agreed to participate in the “senior buddy” program and make friendship bracelets to share with their buddies.

“I think that so many of us are craving connection, with all the ‘normal’ that is not happening,” Johns said. “I think it is also a wonderful opportunity for students to connect with the community, and get out of the college bubble, even if that is virtually.”

Each VMRC resident received three bracelets—one to keep and two to share with friends in their community. The bracelets and letters were sent in confetti-filled envelopes to their respective recipients, who had shared their first names and a few personal interests to get the “conversations” started.

“The bracelets are a visible reminder to the residents of the students who made them and wrote a special message,” said Maureen Pearson, vice president of marketing and communications at VMRC. “During these times when everyone needs to be cautious about face-to-face interactions, this exchange was an important and meaningful human connection between the generations.”

Jones encouraged the JMU students to consider developing a pen-pal relationship with their senior buddy. As the holidays approach with uncertainty about visitation, this connection might be even more important.

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Published: Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Last Updated: Wednesday, November 1, 2023

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