Wellness Calls Between USD Students and Senior Citizens Develop into New Connections During the Pandemic

Wellness call participantsWellness call participants: Laura Todd, USD Graduate alumna (left) and Teodora Dillard, USD graduate student in School-Based Clinical Counseling (right)

At the onset of the first stay-at-home order in March, St. Brigid Parish in Pacific Beach and Dr. Wendell Callahan, a parishioner of the church and the Counseling Program Director at USD’s Department of Counseling & Marital and Family Therapy, worked together to find a way to stay connected to their community of nearly 100 Home Ministry members.

Dr. Callahan reached out to several of his counseling graduate students to see if the students would be interested in making wellness calls to these seniors as a supplement to their practicum or internship experience. In April, a group of these students began making weekly wellness calls to check-in on the senior citizen parishioners.

“It initially started as a wellness check in a traditional sense of making sure they have access to toilet paper, at the time, and groceries…how to help them connect themselves to different WIFI’s, Zooms, more of just a check-in and also to be a liaison between the church and [the Home Ministry seniors],” said Laura Todd, recent USD alumna with a graduate degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling. “It kind of transitioned over time to where we would still be a bit of a liaison between the news we got from Dr. Callahan about the church or new happenings with openings or closures (due to COVID-19) and we would pass those on, but it became more of a social and connection call,” added Todd.

 Laura Todd began making weekly calls in April to 8-10 seniors, including couples. After graduating this past August, she transitioned her call list to new students but continued making calls to two individuals who she says became an “integral part of (her) week-to-week life.”

“To hear perspective from people who were alive, for example, during the prior civil rights movement, being able to have this person who’s sharing with me their experiences and their perspectives while I’m at a pretty raw age, just out of grad school, mid-20s, it’s just been incredible,” said Todd.

Teodora Dillard, a USD graduate student in School-Based Clinical Counseling, had a similar experience – learning something new from the seniors she talks to each week.

“I talk to a woman who has been to a lot of places here in the United States and also internationally. She was telling me one week that she had been to Cuba and she gave me a description of what it was like before people couldn’t travel from the United States to Cuba and back again, so that was really interesting. It’s just been a really good experience, getting to know people who are so different than I am,” said Dillard.

Dillard calls several seniors each week, some calls are bi-weekly. She said she is still getting used to speaking on the phone so often, especially to non-family members but during the pandemic, she says it has been nice to hear people’s voices.

“It’s almost a break in my day where I get to have a person-to-person interaction that I usually wouldn’t get to have especially during this time in COVID, so just knowing that I’ll be able to call 4-8 people a week and make those human connections has actually been pretty helpful in my state-of-mind and even self-care practices a little bit too,” said Dillard.

“I have such a connection with these people that I’ve never met before or otherwise would likely have never met, and it is something that adds a little beauty and perspective amongst the chaos a bit and just getting to know them in such a new way, virtually, over the phone,” said Todd. 


Elena Gomez
(619) 260-2739


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