As many seniors struggle with loneliness during the COVID-19 pandemic, young adults are helping them through what has been a rough time for many.
Daniel Hein, 23, who is in a gap year before medical school, is a member of "Papa," a program that pairs older adults with “pals” for companionship and everyday tasks. He regularly meets with 94-year-old Sam Cirrincione.
“I found Papa from a newspaper article my mom showed me, and it just seemed like a good thing to do, just help people get experience working with an older population, learning their stories. I feel like as a doctor, I'll be working with a similar population and it's a fun way to get to learn about [Sam's] many years on this earth,” Hein told Inside Edition Digital.
Hein, who lives in Florida, said he goes grocery shopping and runs other errands with Cirrincione. Each time they goet together, Hein and Cirrincione also go out to eat at the same Italian restaurant. He noted that Cirrincione's routines are really important to him.
“He gets his four ravioli. He's happy,” Hein said.
Cirrincione said he was very scared “to touch people” when he first heard about the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It bothered me, the fact that it was a danger of meeting people,” Cirrincione said. “I didn't want to pick up the virus and spread it to other people.”
Now when the pair meet up, they both wear masks.
Andrew Parker founded the Papa Pal program initially for his late grandfather, who his family called “Papa.” The program is now available through health plans in 17 states.
“I thought it would be helpful to pair him with a college student at the time, specifically a nursing student, and he loved it,” Parker said of his grandfather.
Now with the pandemic, Parker said the program is even more essential.
“Seniors and adults feel more isolated than ever, so it’s an interesting time period,” Parker said.
Hein said he also realizes that “human connection” is essential for people during this time.
“A lot of seniors aren't very well versed in technology. Sam [Cirrincione] only has a flip phone … Really, if they're not seeing anyone in person, they're not seeing anyone. That's pretty isolating,” Hein said. “I think being careful, but also reaching out to his help and his relationships. A lot of his life is anchored in his routines. He sees people on his adventures. I think that's really important to him,” Hein added.