Local students are working to build community. Courtesy image.

When the pandemic broke out Quinn Armour, a student at Samohi, immediately thought of her isolated grandma who lives in a nursing home all the way in Nashville. Knowing just how much every call means to her grandmother, Armour decided to launch the Community Connect Club, which pairs Santa Monica High School students with local seniors for weekly check-in phone conversations.

“In April, my mom and I started talking about how creating this club would be really great for seniors who are isolated, because I have my grandma who lives in Nashville and she was diagnosed with dementia a few years ago. She lived in an assisted nursing home so she has been really lonely because we don’t get to visit her,” said Armour. “Even though she’s not really in her right mind, I know how much our calls made an impact on me because it felt really special to connect with her in that way.”

Although there are many seniors stuck inside in Santa Monica right now, contacting them was not as easy as Armour initially thought as many seniors do not use email. She and her team members worked hard on outreach during the spring semester, then underwent training on participating in social call programs, and have been able to pair students with seniors this fall.

Armour partnered with Dr. Scott Kaiser, the Director of Geriatric Cognitive Health at USC, who was able to connect her with local seniors and also referred her to the Motion Picture Television Foundation. The MPTF developed the Connect CallHub, which connects social program phone calls without sharing any personal information. Twelve students went through the Foundation’s Social Call Training Program and learned the best ways to communicate with seniors.

“Part of the training showed videos of seniors talking about really how much the calls meant to them and how much it has helped them especially if they live alone,” said Armour. “So I thought it was surprising how many people actually benefit from the calls and don’t just see them as something they have to do, but really look forward to all the calls.”

The Community Connect Club will pair each student with one senior so that they can focus on building a deep bond. The program will not only help local seniors deal with isolation during the pandemic, but also offers an opportunity for students to learn from the perspective, wisdom, and experiences of their older neighbors.

Armour, who will graduate next May, seeks to pursue a double major in gerontology and music at USC. Prior to the pandemic she used to volunteer with Musicians on Call and go room to room singing to elderly hospital patients.

“I’ve always been so interested in the aging process. I’d always look at my grandma’s photos of her when she was younger and I just thought that was the most fascinating thing really. I really have such a special connection with my grandma, we are so much alike,” said Armour. “I know how much music means to seniors and it really calms the mind and I’m really interested in how those two are connected.”