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Closing the Gap

Projects allow students and alumni to connect with local seniors

It can be easy to feel lonely while social distancing and observing stay-at-home recommendations, especially if you’re a senior citizen. But, for local elders, Bridgewater State University students and recent graduates are here to forge connections.

BSU's Martin Richard Institute for Social Justice is partnering with the Town of Bridgewater’s Senior Center on two intergenerational initiatives that foster safe socialization. In one, volunteers become seniors’ pen pals. The other focuses on capturing elders’ stories of their youth.

“I know a lot of seniors are especially affected by what’s going on right now,” said participant Heather McKenna, ’20, who recently earned a social work degree. “Any form of community is very important.”

BSU and town staff had discussed partnering before the pandemic hit. But, the efforts take on new importance now.

“It really shows, even with everything going on, you can make a difference in someone’s life,” said Nick Jordan, ’20, who majored in communication studies.

Jordan and McKenna are among more than two dozen students and alumni serving as seniors’ newest pen pals. They are also part of a smaller group of paid interns working on the Reunion Project, which Massachusetts photographer Lora Brody launched to record seniors’ stories. Their memories and portraits will be displayed this fall.

“We knew our students were eager to stay connected to service and the community and give back,” said Laura Mulvey, G’18, program manager in the Martin Richard Institute for Social Justice.

Seniors are excited to share their stories, especially with young people who are eager to listen and learn from them.

“They really do enjoy being around youth and teaching us. They enjoy sharing their wisdom,” said Emily Williams, the town’s elder affairs director. “This is great to have the two generations interact. They can learn from each other.”

The projects are perfect for McKenna and Jordan, who during their time as students participated in service activities and trips and conducted interviews on their WBIM radio show.

“It combines the things I loved throughout my four years at BSU,” said Jordan. “To have this opportunity to get to know all these seniors is really cool.”

Added McKenna: “It gives me a sense of purpose as well.”

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