COVID-19 Connects SOLES Counseling Students with Seniors from Saint Brigid Home Ministry

Following the COVID-19 stay-at-home orders issued in March, graduate students from the University of San Diego have been volunteering with the Saint Brigid Home Ministry.

Under the supervision of USD professor and long-time St. Brigid parishioner Dr. Wendell Callahan and in close collaboration with Home Ministry Leader Gerry Greer, the students have been making regular wellness checks on the phone and via email to parishioners who are part of the Home Ministry. In August, the students graduated with their Master's in Counseling and are now working toward California licensure as professional counselors. Their experience with St. Brigid’s Home Ministry has been as positive and beneficial for the senior parishioners as it has for the USD volunteers.

Youth Making Positive Connections with their Elders

Recent SOLES graduate Laura Todd found serendipitous benefits in volunteering with the Home Ministry. Laura shared, “While I am living alone, I found unexpected connections through the Home Ministry. Upon beginning the wellness checks in early April, shortly after the initial COVID stay-at-home orders, I did not anticipate just how much those wellness checks would become an integral part of my own wellness. Throughout these past several months, I realized just how lucky I was to have this opportunity to learn and grow, both personally and professionally, by engaging with seniors that have lived so much more life; they have provided perspectives I otherwise would not have considered. Being a cradle Catholic, my own beliefs about Catholicism were challenged in a positive way.”

New SOLES graduate Jennifer Deane found that “Talking to the seniors who are going through a more difficult time than I am, showed me how much positivity there is in the world on a day-to-day basis. It’s the small things, like a senior telling me about a new puzzle that she’s excited about, or another senior telling me about her garden. They've shown me how to handle challenging life events with grace, and how to see beauty in difficult situations.”

SOLES graduate Bridget Pak is appreciative to have learned from the life experiences and wisdom of every St. Brigid parishioner with whom she was fortunate enough to connect. Bridget shared that “getting to hear different perspectives on life, stories of hardships and celebrations, and how different parishioners were positively adapting to changes due to COVID helped to shift me from focusing

on the negative to focusing on the positive things in life and to find gratitude in the little things. Everyone I have connected with exudes such positivity even when faced with challenges and never fail to put a smile on my face. I am very grateful to have been given the opportunity to connect with everyone and hear everyone’s stories.”

Fellow Catholic and SOLES graduate Abigail Brown forged a spiritual connection to the seniors she checked in on. Abigail discovered that “Not being able to personally go to Mass for a long time has been tough. Having a more personal connection with people in our faith has been beneficial and helpful for me. While I initially asked if they wanted to be included in the prayer list, it eventually led me to being able to ask them to include my friends and family in their prayers. This was so helpful to have a reciprocal connection in our Catholic faith.”

Reflecting on Positive Results

As the students look forward to their professional lives after their graduation, they also reflected on the positive lessons they have learned from their experience in the Home Ministry. Laura found that her relationships grew over time and were mutually beneficial, as she looked forward to the calls each week. Laura also emphasized the joy in being able to connect with not only the seniors themselves, but also at times, the other members of the seniors’ families. Living alone and being far from home, as Laura was born & raised in Texas, these calls diversified whom Laura was connecting with during these unprecedented times. Each week, Laura gained new knowledge, perspectives, or anecdotes that she appreciated from different conversations she had each week - enlightened and energized by the faith, optimism, and authenticity. Jennifer shared that since her grandparents live far away she appreciated being able to connect with someone older when she is not able to be with her grandparents. Jennifer also feels that her gratitude has expanded based on learning about the seniors’ experiences. Abigail found that the experience has helped her to change her perspective and see the grand scheme of things. For example, hearing about how one recent centenarian Ruby got through the Great Depression has helped her see beyond the current situation. It has helped her to “look past my 20s and look forward to life in my 70s and 80s.”

Bridget appreciated getting to hear different life stories and having “inside jokes” with the seniors she called. She enjoyed connecting with seniors, as it was something different from her day-to-day life as a student. She shared that experiencing the life wisdom from the seniors she talks with has reminded her of living her life to the fullest as well as the importance of family support and connecting with her own family.

A new group of SOLES counseling graduate students have joined to continue the wellness checks following Laura’s, Bridget’s, Jennifer’s and Abby’s graduation.  Jennifer Asmann, Teodora Dillard and Mami Takahara are checking in on the St. Brigid Seniors both by phone and in by email.  As we enter the holiday season, the importance of regular social contact increases for each of us.

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