Villanova ReachOut fosters connections with older adults
By Yasmine Iqbal
Every week, Daniel Dougherty ’23 FCN has a warm, lively, hour-long phone conversation that lifts his spirits and reaffirms his enthusiasm for his chosen career path in geriatric nursing. Daniel is a volunteer for Villanova ReachOut, an innovative program launched in May 2020 that pairs Villanova campus community members with local older adults to create and support vital social connections.
ReachOut was the brainchild of Christina R. Whitehouse, PhD, AGPCNP-BC, CDCES, assistant professor in the M. Louise Fitzpatrick College of Nursing, and her colleagues in the Gerontology Interest Group (GiG), which advances research, advocacy and workforce development to support the needs of older adults.
“I knew the program would benefit older adults, but i’s been wonderful to see how it has impacted the volunteers, as well,” Dr. Whitehouse says. “Students have reported that their communication skills have improved, and many have developed a desire to go into gerontology.”
ReachOut volunteers reported feeling increased empathy and gaining a new perspective on the needs of older adults.
Volunteers, who can include any undergraduate and graduate student, faculty, or staff member from across the University, undergo training in active listening and conversational skills, as well as HIPAA and privacy laws (volunteers do not provide any health care or advice). They are then partnered with older adults who have either expressed interest in participating in the program or been referred by relatives, caregivers or community agencies. Volunteers initiate the calls at a frequency and length agreed upon between the older adult and their volunteer partner. ReachOut includes over 70 volunteers and older adults, who range in age from early 50s to mid-80s.
In June 2020, Daniel made his first call to his partner, a gentleman who had experienced a stroke a few months earlier. “It was a little nerve-wracking to make that first call,” Daniel admits. “But my partner was so eager to talk, and we ended up speaking for an hour and a half.” Over the last 18 months, they’ve chatted about movies and sports and occasionally touched on deeper subjects, including family and religion. “We’ve shared experiences and many, many laughs,” Daniel says.
Daniel can attest to the benefits. “My interest in geriatric nursing was sparked by my grandparents, and my experience with ReachOut makes me even more certain that I’ve chosen the right path,” he says. “My partner always brightens my day, and I think I can say that I do the same for him.”
For more information on this program, or to participate or volunteer, visit villanova.edu/reachout.