Social distancing in the midst of a pandemic has not been easy on anyone, but for nursing home residents who can’t have visitors, current times may be especially lonely.
In light of this, Penn State's off-campus student support office in Student Affairs is coordinating a program to have University Park students take selfies and videos that will be distributed to residents of nursing homes in State College.
The goal of the program is to allow students to put a smile on the residents’ faces since their facilities aren’t allowing visitors, according to Kelly Mroz, the interim director of off-campus student support.
Mroz worked with student community ambassadors to come up with the idea.
“What they do is affect positive change in the community,” Mroz said about the ambassadors. “They do it through what we call ‘random acts of community.’”
Historically, this included acts of kindness such as bringing thank you notes with coffee and donuts to police officers or firefighters or giving flowers to neighbors.
“When the pandemic happened, we had to really rethink,” Mroz said. “First of all, about community, and what it meant to people right now. But also, how we could do positive things in the community with the limitations of the pandemic.”
The ambassadors decided they wanted to do something for nursing home residents because of their isolation and vulnerability.
After reaching out to nursing home facilities, they were told they could not send physical cards, so anything they gave would have to be digital.
The ambassadors came up with the idea of doing a cross between “a virtual talent show and a greeting card,” according to Mroz.
Annette Tull, a community ambassador who has worked with Mroz, became involved in the program in the hopes of spreading positivity.
“We wanted to give the community some reassurance that we're all in this together and spread joy through some videos/pictures,” Tull said via email.
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Tull and Mroz contacted students, friends and family through emails and social media to get as many participants as possible.
“I know that it was affecting everyone emotionally not being able to be around their loved ones,” Tull said.
Students were encouraged to send selfies with hands making hearts, waving, holding signs, with their pets or anything that could put a smile on residents’ faces. They could also send in pictures of what they were doing during the pandemic — for instance, working in a grocery store.
One group of students that stepped up to contribute to the program was the Chemistry Graduate Student Association, which is made up of the entire graduate body for chemistry at Penn State.
Around eight to 10 of them submitted videos to the program, and even more sent in selfies.
Seongik Chen, the outreach chair for Chem GSA, said the group usually does more science-related outreach programs.
"We do Arts Fest and we go to different schools and do science demonstrations,” Chen said. “You can’t do [in-person events] now. There’s no one-on-one meeting."
Chem GSA members decided to get involved after receiving an email Mroz sent out to student organizations asking for participation. Chen said he knew members would want to send in videos demonstrating different talents, as many of the organization's graduate students have hobbies or are passionate about things besides chemistry.
One video that stood out to the program was of a Chem GSA member who crochets. He sent in a “how-to” video for the residents to learn how to crochet little plushies, such as Yoda.
Other talent submissions from Penn State students included singing, playing the ukulele, hula-hooping and playing ping pong.
Mroz has plans to send the finished product to different nursing homes around State College. She also intends to forward the video to the students who participated so they can send it to their own local nursing homes.
“I think a lot of students really care about the most vulnerable community members right now,” Mroz said. “If people hear about this and understand what it is, I think students will want to help.”
The videos and pictures work best if they are filmed horizontally on a phone. Students who wish to participate can email their contributions to OffCampus@psu.edu.
Students can contact Kelly Mroz at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions.