With the COVID-19 pandemic hitting the United States in mid-March and quickly spreading throughout the region, many people had their lives come to an abrupt halt. With schools in Virginia going virtual and retirement communities closing their doors to visitors, students and seniors became two groups greatly affected by the social-distancing policies. To help ease the transition, Goodwin House and St. Stephen’s and St. Agnes School joined forces to create the Companion Program.
Created in mid-march, the Companion Program allows residents and students to connect as they go through these unprecedented times together. Each pair consists of one student and one resident with similar interests and each week the two connect through phone calls, emails, photos and other forms of communication.
Since Goodwin House and St. Stephen’s and St. Agnes School have had a partnership for many years, with students performing and volunteering at the resident community, leadership at both establishments looked toward each other to help ease the stress brought on by coronavirus, as both students and residents dealt with difficulties of changing schedules and very limited social interactions.
Tiffany Proctor, director of life enrichment at Goodwin House Bailey’s Crossroads, explains that, “When the pandemic came about, we started to think about ways that further our partnership with St. Stephen’s and St. Agnes School and perhaps there was something mutually beneficial; we could pair up their students with our residents to just have conversation. And that’s just kind of how it started and it grew from there.”
Just three months into the voluntary program, it already has 28 pairs with 11 students on the waitlist heading into summer. With the early success of the Companion Program, leadership, residents and students have already seen the positive effects these relationships have brought.
Proctor has seen residents visibly happier as they talk about the conversations they have with their student buddy.
Bailey’s Crossroad resident and Companion Program participant Dr. Drue Shropshire Guy says, “It has helped me tremendously. I have really enjoyed talking with [Lindsay]. I feel it has given me a touch with what is going on, not only from the outside world, but to hear first hand what’s going on now in the change of schools at this time.”
As the state starts to reopen, Valentina Raman, the director of service learning and social entrepreneurship at St. Stephen’s and St. Agnes School, says the plan is to continue the program after the coronavirus shutdowns and social-distancing policies end as well.
With the program planning to continue and grow in the future, Dr. Guy’s student companion and rising 11th grader Lindsay Lian advises students who may want to join the program to try it out.
“I was really worried that Dr. Guy wouldn’t like me, that it would be super awkward or she just wouldn’t want to talk,” says Lian. “I was definitely really nervous at first, but I’ve formed a great relationship with her and it’s really nice to have a friend who is outside of who I would normally have as a friend.”
Once social-distancing rules start to relax in Northern Virginia, the administration of both establishments plan to throw a social at Goodwin House, so their companion pairs can finally meet in person.
“Hopefully this will be a model that is replicated by other residential communities with partner schools in the area and as a way to foster that intergenerational relationship and learning,” says Raman. “I see this definitely growing more and more and hopefully the relationships that are already happening continue to evolve and blossom over time and on their own organically.”
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