Split between traditional academics and hands-on fieldwork, the mission of a typical class at New Ventures is for students to gain real-world experience to prepare them for success in both their professional and personal lives. As a result of this model, our school has nurtured strong relations with community partners throughout the years, often integrating their work in our curriculum.
This year, one of our partners, The Brielle at Seaview, has been badly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. While The Brielle is known for offering many opportunities for older adults to stay active and social with others, due to the spreading virus, many of their more vulnerable residents were suffering in isolation, especially those without family to connect with. According to a recent report issued by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine (NASEM), these conditions can have harmful and sometimes detrimental effects on the mental and physical health of people in older age, such as the increased risk of dementia, heart disease, stroke, and premature death.
Orly Wiseman, a teacher at New Ventures, recognized the issue and quickly began brainstorming a solution.
In collaboration with staff at The Brielle, Wiseman launched the early stages of Partners in Time, a virtual pen pal program between our students and residents of the assisted living facility. Aimed to bridge the age gap between generations on Staten Island, the project allows our children to support members of the community from a social distance.
Wiseman worked closely with Gwen, a student at New Ventures, whose friendly and outgoing personality made her the perfect candidate to be matched with those in need of companionship. Over the course of the summer, Gwen connected with residents remotely twice a week through Zoom video calls.
In the beginning, the flow of conversation was a major concern for Gwen, as she was unsure how much she would have in common with someone much older than herself. However, Gwen was surprised to discover how quickly she was able to form a bond with residents Irene and Joanne, whom she looked forward to spending time with each week. Mutually, the residents soon found a friend in Gwen. “It’s incredible how human connection becomes important to people, both old and young,” says Wiseman.
Optimistic about the program’s potential, Wiseman’s next step focused on expanding for New Ventures classes in the fall. In the process of preparing students for their first meetings in October, Wiseman spent the month of September concentrating lesson plans on the art and science of communication, including developing active listening skills, becoming familiar with asking open-ended questions, and creating topics that can be used in conversation with the residents.
Though she is starting small, Wiseman has big dreams for the future of Partners in Time and would one day like to extend the program internationally, with hopes of battling loneliness in older adults on a global scale.