Kara Anaya, Grade 10, Staff Writer
The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a significant toll on people’s physical and mental well-being. Everyone has had to adapt in order to maintain contact with other people while social distancing. Senior citizens have especially felt this pressure due to the extra danger of the virus for them. However, they, too, have begun adapting to these changes and have connected with others, including students at the High School of American Studies.
The National Honors Society at HSAS partnered with an organization called DOROT to help students meet and get to know senior citizens. “Dorot” is Hebrew for the word “generations,” and the name represents the program’s exact purpose — to help establish positive relationships across generations.
Before the spread of COVID-19, DOROT volunteers and workers went to seniors’ homes, held live workshops, and distributed holiday gifts. However, since in-person interactions are now restricted, it has become crucial to find new, innovative ways to stay in contact.
Rebecca Friedman, a junior at HSAS, talked about the work she has done with DOROT and why it is important. “As the director of community service for the National Honor Society, I worked with DOROT's Facilitator of Intergenerational Teen Programs, Jacob Kaplan-Lipkin, to organize a discussion group with DOROT's older adults and NHS students,” she said, “The discussion was centered around stories — why they are important and sharing our own. Forming connections with seniors is an amazing, unique experience and way to see new perspectives and gain new friends.” The HSAS Community Service Club has also taken initiative through a pen pal program with a retirement community in Columbus, Ohio. Both the students and the seniors were able to decide if they wanted to exchange physical letters or emails with their pen pal, and then the leaders of the club matched them according to their preferences.
Though the program has just started and some students and seniors have only responded once or twice so far, many connections have already been made. Emma Abell, a junior at HSAS, has been exchanging emails with Tricia Herban, one of the seniors, and they have begun to form a strong bond. “I’ve loved emailing with my pen pal! It’s wonderful to be able to connect to someone, especially because the pandemic has made social interaction more difficult and complicated,” Abell said. “I’ve learned that she loves to write, cook, and travel, especially with her friends.”
Social isolation and loneliness have been difficult side effects of the pandemic. Establishing new bonds with strangers, even if they are far away, helps to combat this loneliness. “We share so many common interests, and it’s so nice to feel like we’re giving each other something small to look forward to,” Abell reflected.
Friedman summed up the significance of these new connections: “Forming intergenerational bonds is a unique and often overlooked way to create friendly and genuine connections.”