In the year of social isolation, a pair of Calgary organizations are teaming up to create as human a solution to loneliness as a pandemic will permit.
Grade school aged children go online with the help of their parents and log into Zoom to speak with seniors. The pilot program is being presented as a collaboration through the Kerby Centre and Kids Up Front Calgary.
It's called Zoom Pals.
Similar to a traditional pen pal program, which the partners are also running, Zoom Pals connects old and young for half-hour online sessions once a week through Zoom.
“Social isolation caused by the pandemic has been particularly difficult for seniors and children,” says Kerby Centre CEO Larry Mathieson. “We are thrilled to be working with Kids Up Front to organize this incredible program that will benefit children and seniors, helping them all stay connected and engaged.”
A trained volunteer helps facilitate the session and the Zoom Pals have an opportunity to do some activities and games together.
Kelten McCarroll is nine and getting ready for grade four. His mom Amanda learned of the program through a Facebook post and signed Kelten up.
Kelten likes his half-hour video call with his new Zoom Pal Catherine.
“She showed me some machine thing and you put milk in it and you make butter with it,” said Kelten.
“Catherine shows him things that she used and he has to guess what he thinks they might be, then she shows him,” said Amanda McCarroll, Kelten’s mom. “So he has a lot of fun with that and they play games like Scattergories, Pictionary. He has a lot of fun with it.”
There are currently 12 seniors and children taking part in Zoom Pals and the organizations continue to develop new programs for their clients.
Nicky Nash is the executive director of Kids Up Front Calgary and says intergenerational programs can have a positive impact on everyone involved.
“They can improve the well-being of older adults and support youth development,” said Nash. “It is a creative and practical solution to help reduce isolation and create meaningful connections.”
Kids Up Front operates across the country and Nash says other regions are looking at this program and she hopes to see it expand so entire classrooms can adopt a senior.
“So they’ll actually be communicating with the senior throughout the year, on special occasions, their birthday for instance and Christmas and things like that,” said Nash. “So we have some ideas to continue this through the school year and then also continue the Zoom sessions as well when we can.”
”My hope is that between our networks either real or virtual that other organizations say hey this is a good idea,” said Mathieson.
Kelten knows it’s important to connect with seniors who are feeling isolated.
“Because when I talk to them they don’t feel lonely and I can make them just not feel lonely and make a friend,” said Kelten.