NEWARK, Del. — For Pat Drake, life can sometimes feel run-of-the-mill.
“The big excitement I have is going to doctor's offices, going to the library to pick up where return books, going shopping for food and getting mail from the mailbox,” she said.
Every week, though, there’s something to break up the monotony.
“It's just wonderful,” Drake said. “It makes you think, ‘Oh my goodness, someone thinks I'm special.’”
That feeling comes from the duo of Julianna Kolek and Jenna Hopkins, two students from the nearby University of Delaware.
“I want to hear everything she has to say,” Hopkins said.
“I like talking, but whenever I'm here, I feel like I'm always listening,” she said.
The two are part of “Lori’s Hands,” a nonprofit that began in 2012. It brings together college students with senior citizens in Delaware, Maryland and Michigan for home visits, to combat isolation among older people.
“It's a way to connect inter-generations,” said Patrick Gray, who is a board member of Lori’s Hands. “I think it's way beyond their collegiate years. They continue to stay in touch.”
That communication has taken on new urgency during the pandemic.
According to a recent study from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, about 43% of all adults over the age of 60 reported feeling “socially isolated,” due to factors like living alone, loss of family and friends or chronic illness.
That isolation can translate into serious health effects. including a 29% increase in heart disease, a 32% increase for a stroke and a 50% increase in the risk of dementia.
“We've seen an increase in requests because of that,” Gray said. “So, a lot of loneliness, a lot of isolation is happening.”
For Pat Drake, that loneliness took hold after she lost her husband in the summer of 2020. Coupled with the pandemic and her own health issues, it’s been a tough time.
“Let's just say it's not a bowl cherries,” she said.
However, she finds that Lori’s Hands is helping.
“It reminds you of, ‘Yes, you were a young kid once,’” Drake said. “We weren't always old ladies.”
As for the students, the visits feel just as rewarding.
“Every time that I am feeling down, like I come here and I just feel a lot happier,” said Julianna Kolek. “I leave with a more positive outlook on everything that's happening in my life.”
The visits also provide lessons of a different kind.
“I have a little note in my Notes App on my phone called 'Things Pat has Taught Me,' and it's just filled with things, like the most random things,” Jenna Hopkins said. “There's like, ‘how to make a good cherry pie,’ but also ‘how to overcome challenges.’”
It’s a path made easier for Pat Drake, who said, “It just warms my heart.”