Student-senior program suspended, but remote connections continue

The Connection Club pairs local seniors with University of Minnesota students as part of a community service learning course.

From left, Darla and Richard Waxler.

From left, Darla and Richard Waxler.

Yves De Jesus

A program partnering University of Minnesota students with local seniors has been suspended due to COVID-19, but some participants are finding ways to keep in touch with each other.

The Connection Club pairs students every semester with seniors from Southeast Seniors, which promotes independent senior living through volunteer and professional support. The student-senior peer program, which is part of a community service learning course at the University, was canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic. However, some students in the Connection Club, like sophomore Ari Livshutz, have continued to keep in touch remotely with their senior peers on their own time. 

“But because it’s no longer a requirement for the class, it’s totally optional for the students to continue to try to reach out to their seniors,” said Ann Carter, the volunteer services coordinator at Southeast Seniors.

Southeast Seniors services four neighborhoods around the University: Prospect Park, Marcy-Holmes, Southeast Como and Nicollet Island/East Bank. 

Livshutz said that it’s especially important to check up on seniors now because they are the age group most vulnerable to COVID-19. He said that conversations with his senior peer Richard Wexler are fun and don’t take up much time from his personal schedule. 

“So yeah I thought, ‘Why not?’ The person I’m working with is very nice to talk to,” Livshutz said. “He’s very friendly.”

Livshutz said he’s built a good friendship with Wexler. He said he hopes that someday when he gets to Wexler’s age, someone else would reciprocate the gesture.

“I know that when I would get older I would want someone to do it for me,” he said. “I feel like it’s kind of encouraging something positive in society.”

Wexler has been a part of the Connection Club for about three years. He said his communication with the students has been an enriching experience. 

“I’m in my 70s, and yet I still think and feel young, and being with a young person is just really enjoyable for me — keeps me young,” Wexler said. “I like the youthful spirit of young people, and I don’t want to sit around with ancient people who just grumble and complain.”

Southeast Seniors helps to coordinate transportation to medical appointments, facilitate home visits and deliver groceries. But due to coronavirus concerns, home visits are now remote and services have been adapted to limit contact. 

“We’ve switched out home visiting to phone visiting for our clients, and outside the Connection Club program also, for staff that would visit and other volunteers that would,” said Betsy Snyder, executive director of Southeast Seniors.

Darla Wexler, Richard Wexler’s wife, said she feels reassured the organization and the program has adapted its services in light of the pandemic to protect both seniors and the volunteers.  

“And now they’re really looking out all the more for the seniors,” she said.