- Written by Janis Merrell
- Published: 14 August 2020
LifePath is partnering with The Concordium to provide a new intergenerational phone companionship program. It is open to any older person in the community.
The Concordium is a Harvard-based social impact venture that matches Harvard undergrads with elders from Massachusetts, based on shared interests. In this manner, they can engage in friendly and interesting conversations via phone once a week. Due to COVID-19, students and elders alike are feeling especially isolated and can benefit from additional social support.
Due to COVID-19, students and elders alike are feeling especially isolated and can benefit from additional social support.
Many engaging, caring, intelligent students are ready to speak on the phone with interested elders. Besides English, available languages include Mandarin, Cantonese, Spanish, and French. All participating students are required to attend a training before speaking with the elder they are matched with, along with filling out a weekly check-in document after their conversations. Members of The Concordium also check in with participating elders to ensure that the conversations they are having with student volunteers are suitable and beneficial. The Concordium members have received very positive feedback from the elders and volunteers they have recently paired, as well as from the senior centers and nursing homes with whom they have already partnered.
“One of our favorite stories to tell has been the beautiful friendship developed between a Harvard undergrad and a Harvard alum. They grew up in the same area and thus have much to talk about. The elder often sends book recommendations, poems, and documentaries for the undergrad to watch. Most recently, the undergrad sent the elder the memoir/travelogue On Lighthouses for his birthday, as she knew how much he loved sailing and that he was in the navy,” reports Allegra Rollo, founder of The Concordium, and A.B. Candidate in Human Evolutionary Biology with a Secondary in Comparative Literature, Harvard Class of 2021.
Rollo says she founded The Concordium because she realized the toll COVID-19 was taking on connectedness early in the pandemic. “My entire extended family lives in Italy, which, as you know, faced the brunt of its COVID-19 outbreak earlier than we did in the U.S. Because of this, I definitely anticipated the challenges many nursing homes and elder services in the U.S. would face. My grandmother lives in a town without family and friends, and she was in complete isolation for three months. From her experience, I understood the severe psychological toll that isolation would take on all citizens, but especially the elderly, who are often less adept at using technology and would normally rely on family visits or activities with other elders,” explains Rollo.
Harvard classmate Isaac Longobardi volunteered for The Concordium because it aligned with his current focus on elder care. “Elder care is really my biggest passion in life and it has brought me into the company of so many bright, thoughtful, and caring people — both elders and caregivers alike. I got started volunteering in high school at a monthly bingo dinner in my school's neighborhood in New York City, and my interest in the social and political challenges of elder experience and care has really taken off from there. Currently, I'm working as a home health aide in the Boston area as part of my senior thesis research on the intimate relationships developed between elders and care providers. So I'm really fascinated by and committed to the ways in which people connect across generations and form mutually beneficial relationships. I got involved in The Concordium when Allegra reached out — knowing my interests and work. And it has been a wonderful opportunity to try to bring some of the benefits and joy of sharing time and conversation with elders with my college-age peers,” says Longobardi.
In addition to the new partnership with LifePath, The Concordium has officially partnered with six nursing homes and senior centers in the Greater Boston area, and has matched twenty Harvard undergrads with twenty elders. “We are so thankful to and inspired by the large numbers of Harvard undergrads that signed up to volunteer with us. We have many volunteers who still remain unmatched with an elder, as the greatest difficulty we have had thus far has actually been recruiting elders,” says Rollo, who reports that one of their original goals was to eventually partner with other colleges throughout the U.S. to create a nationwide endeavor. “We have already spoken to a few students at Emory University, who are starting similar efforts with local nursing homes,” states Rollo.
Longobardi adds, “Right now, more than ever, there's such a need to connect people across distances — to give people the chance to communicate with each other, speaking and listening. I see this project as one small contribution in that larger effort, and I am confident that it is a real force for good in the world.”
Volunteers usually call elders once a week for around an hour. However, the frequency of calls can be modified based on preference. Rollo explains, “These phone calls are a two-way street. They provide mutual emotional support. The students to whom you will be speaking are incredibly eager to hear about your life experience, stories, and advice. They are also incredibly eager to talk about themselves and their future motivations. We will be matching you with someone who shares your background and interests, and your participation can be as frequent or infrequent as you'd like. We truly hope that you enjoy these conversations as much as we have.”