Pandemic pen pals


special to CCJ

Mercer students write letters to senior citizens left alone during pandemic.

Mercer University students are writing letters and making phone calls to senior citizens, to make sure the pandemic hasn’t left anyone feeling alone.


COVID-19 news has been dominating national and global headlines for months … but during the chaos of the ever-changing health guidelines and social distancing orders, one part of the population has become increasingly more isolated.

“For seniors, who have been stuck by themselves for an extended period of time, you know, it can really weigh on you to not get to see people,” said Madison Wagner, a senior at Mercer University.

She started a program with the Aging Life Care Association with the help of her mother who works with the group, to pair students and volunteers with an elderly person in Georgia or New York, interested in having someone to talk to on the phone once a week or more.

“The idea is just that we have pre health professionals, students, that are wanting to go in some part of the medical field. I’m speaking with these seniors who, most of them are either isolated or they’re living in like an assisted living facility, or just people who their care managers think that like they’re lonely and could use, like the extra companionship. So the idea is to just make like intergenerational relationships, and really just get to know each other and just be a support system for each other.”

“At Mercer’s PA program, one of the huge things is service and so we were trying to be involved as much as we can during this whole pandemic,” said Anna DeLoach, the philanthropy chair for the class of 2022 in Mercer University’s Physician Assistant program.

DeLoach, also saw a need in the community for companionship with the senior citizens. A classroom lecture sparked her idea, after hearing that some of Professor Jennifer de la Cruz’s elderly patients at a nursing facility in Decatur, hadn’t had any visitors for months on end during the covid crisis.

“I reached out to the class and I was just like, ‘Hey, y’all, What do y’all think about you know, writing some letters or having some form of contact with these patients that haven’t been able to see their families and multiple months?’ And so, I almost had over 45 people like my message in the class and like, instantly, and so I was like, wow, okay, this is this is happening,” said DeLoach.

“A big part of practicing medicine is the human interaction factor and being able to empathize with your patients and kind of imagine what it would feel like to be in their shoes. So the students reaching out to patients and this very unique situation of literally not being able to leave the facility for months on end and not being able to have visitors, I think has been really impactful to both my patients, but I think also to the students,”said Jennifer de la Cruz, the Director of Clinical Education with Mercer’s PA program.

Both writing and calling senior citizens has not only made a difference in some of the lives of elderly people during the pandemic.

“Our students are so great. When I rounded on my patients the week after we handed the letters out, several of them showed me the letter and they were very excited,” said de la Cruz.

But also the students…

” It’s the best experience because they tell you so much about their life, but you also get to tell them so much about your life, which is so different,” said Wagner.

It’s not too late to get involved. To volunteer with calling seniors, contact Madison Wagner at [email protected]. To volunteer to make phone calls, contact Anna DeLoach at [email protected].