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How FHS students are volunteering with seniors in our community

How FHS students are volunteering with seniors in our community

As social distancing measures continue across Canada, I have been astounded at the ways in which students within the Faculty of Health Sciences have stepped forward in a volunteer capacity. Our students are astute; in just a few weeks they have identified several areas of need and quickly organized themselves to provide much needed support. I detailed some of these initiatives in my blog in late March.

This week, I learned that some of our students, independent of the university and curricular activities, have created a program to support seniors in the Kingston community. The students were inspired by the University Hospital Network’s OpenLab Friendly Neighbour Hotline in Toronto, where volunteers deliver groceries to seniors. They named this program the ‘Student-run Community Support Program’ (SCSP) and it was formally launched in early April. The organizing team includes students from across four programs (medicine, nursing, occupational therapy and physical therapy): Valera Castanov, Vanessa Giuliano, Nia King, Ruchit Patel, Daniel Shi, Jenn Campbell, Kathryn McGuire, Justin Achat, Theresa Fraser, Grace Manalili, Michaela Patterson and Cici Sij.

“During the COVID-19 crisis, it has become increasingly difficult for seniors to obtain groceries, especially with the risk of going out to large crowds. We thought it would be great if seniors and other vulnerable populations in Kingston had the support that UHN is offering in Toronto,” says Daniel Shi, who is a medical student. “As Queen's medical students we all followed a member of the Kingston community with a chronic illness as part of the First Patient program in first year. Hence, we began to recruit volunteer students to reach out to our former patients and offer support.”

The support comes in the form of either grocery shopping with contactless deliveries or weekly phone calls, with an aim to prevent senior isolation. The students have organized this on their own as volunteers, without involvement from the Faculty of Health Sciences.

"Community is imperative during a time like this. We have built a community of health professions students who are eager to pool their talents to benefit the wider Kingston community,” says Theresa Fraser, who is an Occupational Therapy student. “Our ultimate goal is improved health, well-being, and quality of life of individuals and populations in the community." Having developed a system for the logistics and accepting reimbursement for groceries, there are now over 40 student volunteers using their own vehicles and bicycles to do grocery shopping and delivery for those who request it. They are delivering to seniors who live within a 30-minute drive from downtown.

We all have relatives who we are worrying about during this pandemic. And what I love most about this initiative is that it provides a way for both seniors and students to build connections in the community when they may not have family nearby.

"Speaking with individuals and families on the phone has allowed me to feel more connected to my community, even in a time of social distancing,” says Alanna Jane, a medical student who has been having weekly phone calls with local seniors. “I have really enjoyed my volunteering experience so far.”

I am in awe of our students’ willingness and ability to serve others during this challenging time. But they tell me that this isn’t a one-shot deal.  After the COVID-19 pandemic ends, the students have a plan to expand the program to include in-person visits. The students envision going on walks, playing cards, and engaging in other activities that would provide ongoing emotional support and physical activity for the people they have met through the program. What a beautiful image to have to focus on right now.

To learn more about the SCSP program or to sign up to receive support, click here.

Please share your thoughts by commenting on the blog, better yet, let’s set up a Zoom call….my virtual door is always open.


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