Inspired by research on older adults and loneliness that shows social relationships are a major contributing factor in lowering their morbidity and mortality, the Fitzpatrick College of Nursing (FCN) launched Villanova ReachOut in May 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic. Assistant Professor Christina Whitehouse, PhD, AGPCNP-BC, CDCES, FADCES, a gerontology primary care nurse practitioner and scientist, knew that engaging this population would promote their health and, so, along with members of FCN’s Gerontology Interest Group (the GiG), she activated the Villanova University campus community to engage older adults through technology and make a positive difference in their mental and physical wellness. The program has been highlighted on local websites.
Following training developed by the FCN team, Villanova undergraduate and graduate student, staff and faculty volunteers arrange with their assigned older adult a regular time to talk via phone, engaging in meaningful conversations – friends talking to friends. Volunteers do not provide any health care or advice. Today, there are 44 volunteers, and 49 older adults participating with 14 organizations referring older adults. The the program was presented at the 2021 Gerontological Society of America meeting with survey data showing older adults felt less isolated in the pandemic and that they looked forward to their calls, as did the volunteers who also felt their communication skills improved.
On the ReachOut team is junior nursing student Michelle Lu, a two-year volunteer who this year is program manager and research assistant. She is leading all volunteer activities such as scheduling students with older adult partners, coordinating intake with outside referrals, and data collection for the research tool measuring partner loneliness.
Channeling her dedication and creativity, Michelle was instrumental in moving the program to becoming an official Villanova student organization and is now its president. This required completion of multiple documents, including aligning the mission of the group to other student organizations, data of students involved, older adult partner recruitment, and an oral presentation to the student organization council for acceptance. With the help of Dr. Whitehouse, she was able to organize that successful presentation.
Michelle has continued to communicate with her older adult partner for two years while championing acceptance of the student organization and daily activities of ReachOut.
Michelle calls working with older adults “a true joy” and hopes to use this experience to help her in her transition to an acute adult care nursing position in New York City upon graduation.
Are you a student, faculty or staff interested in volunteering? Are you or do you have an older adult in the US who could benefit from Villanova ReachOut? Visit the website and complete the brief form to register.