Spring 2020 AAG Wrap-up from Austin Chiles

My name is Austin Chiles and I am a sophomore, BBMB major, and one of the Co-Leaders for the Adopt-A-Grandparent Program for the 2019-2020 school year. You may have seen the other Co-Leader for the program and my friend, Rudo’s, blog post last semester and it is my pleasure to tell you about our program this semester. 

This semester, the Adopt-A-Grandparent program had challenges to overcome (mainly due to COVID-19), but we are still going strong. After a very successful fall semester, we got word that the Washington Odd Fellows Home was undergoing renovations and we would not be able to hold any large events there. So instead of being event heavy, we put most of our emphasis and energy for this semester into ensuring residents and volunteers were having good, strong connections through 1-on-1 visits as well as group activities, such as bingo, poker, and other fun games. Personally, I played poker on Thursday afternoons with a group of four or five people, dependent on the week, and it was so much fun! I personally felt a lot of joy and know that a lot of our volunteers felt successful in these connections. Little did we know that something small happening in China in the middle of January would lead to a renovation of our own. 

In the middle of March, Whitman College decided to close its campus and stop all in-person volunteer activities to prevent the spread of the coronavirus strain, COVID-19. Social distancing had proven to be the most effective method of prevention, which led classes to shift to a remote learning format, many students moved off-campus or back home, and the Adopt-A-Grandparent program shifted to a virtual volunteering format. Since social interaction is such an important part of life for the residents at Odd Fellows and they were unable to see any visitors whatsoever, the Adopt-A-Grandparent program moved online where we are connecting students with residents via facetime, phone calls, and even emails that are printed off and given to the residents, where the volunteers are sometimes even several states away.

Our goal was to combat the social isolation that many members of Whitman’s community were feeling, as well as to combat that of the residents who were unable to receive in person visitors. And we are so pleased that we were successful in our approach! After over seven weeks of virtual volunteering, we have set up twenty-seven of our volunteers with one or even multiple residents per volunteer at Odd Fellows. Personally, I have stayed in contact with all the residents that I played poker with and I love to just hear their voices and know that they are okay. Recently, a staff member and a resident both contracted the virus, which led to all activities within Odd Fellows being prohibited and even more limited contact. They are still able to see their families via facetime, but their in-person communication is extremely limited. That is why it is so important what we have done with our program. Relieving the most vulnerable community members of their social isolation is important, and I am so glad that the other Adopt-A-Grandparent volunteers feel the same way. We will continue this companionship into the summer and want people that are interested in joining our program to know that they can simply email grandparent@whitman.edu and they can begin forming meaningful connections with these amazing people.

I have loved being the Adopt-A-Grandparent program co-leader this past year and know that I will continue to volunteer with the program upon the expiration of my leadership position. I look forward to seeing what this program does in the future and know that we could not do it without the incredible volunteers that we work with and our community partner, Odd Fellows. We wish to thank them for working with us so closely during this challenging time. 

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