Students, Seniors Connect Through Bridge Volunteering

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By: 
Michelle Phillips
Taylor Nordeng, gives the thumbs up while doing yard work for seniors. Nordeng is one of several Middleton High School students who are volunteering at the Middleton Senior Center through Bridge Volunteering.

MIDDLETON–When Bridge Volunteering opened last fall, the goal was to connect Middleton High School students with volunteering opportunities. One of the connections was with the Middleton Senior Center, and now during the COVID-19 pandemic, those opportunities continue.

Students have been working with clients of the center through the Phone Buddy program, as well as completing gardening tasks.

“Bridge Volunteering started the ‘buddy’ program with the Middleton Senior Center. The seniors were sent a newsletter asking if they would like a ‘check in’ call from a Middleton high school student once a week,” said Shaney Andler, Director at Bridge. Students were then paired with a “buddy.”

“Once Shaney created the Bridge Volunteering, all I have to do is email her the need and she has it all organized to let each student know what opportunities are out there. They in turn submit their application,” said Sandy Witte, volunteer coordinator at the senior center. She added that before Bridge, she would have students calling last minute and often didn’t have anything for them to do on short notice.

Normally, Witte said there are four or five students looking for volunteer activities in the summer, but this year there are 10-12. One of those students is Julia Flynn, who will be a junior in the fall, and has been matched with a Phone Buddy named Mary. 

“My phone buddy, Mary, and I get along really well and it makes me happy to know that I am able to keep her company even in these very lonely times. I also enjoy talking to her because she gets excited about all the little events they are planning at her senior center, just because it is something to do. That teaches me to take advantage of all the opportunities I am given,” Flynn said of her calls with Mary.

Calls times are planned by the buddies and conversations typically last for five to 25 minutes. “They are given a list of questions to ask if the conversation isn’t flowing but so far they have been smooth,” added Andler.

Flynn said she and Mary talk about a variety of topics, including interesting things that have happened since they last talked. She said she has learned a lot about Mary through their calls and the two have formed a bond.

“My mom and I are hoping to drop off some gifts to her in order to brighten up her days since the facility she is in is still very closed off,” Flynn said.

“The phone calls to seniors to check really made a difference for the seniors. They are very happy that someone cares enough to call on them,” said Witte.

Teens can also take on yard work, with shifts of one to two hours. “Students have also been asked to do some yard work for the seniors. We have had many kids go and weed pull. mulch, rake leaves and plant for the seniors. These are no contact interactions to keep everyone safe,” Andler explained.

Witte said students are social distancing from seniors while at their homes doing work, and arerequired to wear a mask.

“The seniors love seeing the students, love their work ethic and enjoy a student actually communicating with them,” Witte said.

Andler and Flynn agree that the program has been beneficial to both students and seniors. “The seniors are looking for interaction and the students feel needed and helpful. I am hoping for continued friendships,” Andler said and added that the program helps students get the volunteer hours they need to graduate.

“If I wouldn't have reached out to Shaney, then I wouldn't have had all of these cool opportunities and I wouldn't have discovered how much I enjoy working with the elderly,” Flynn stated.

In addition to Phone Buddy and yard work, Bridge volunteers have also helped seniors learn how to use their phones and helped them while computer questions. Witte said in a normal setting, the students would also be inside the center working. 

“When we open the students will be helping with serving meals, packing lunches plus helping with projects at the Senior Center,” said Witte.

But for now, students can volunteer at a distance, and still make those important connections.

For more information about volunteering and Bridge, visit: bridgevolunteering.com or email Andler at: shaney@bridgevolunteering.com

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