Isolated Elderly and Stir-Crazy Teens Form Real Bonds, Virtually

My Covid Story

Older adults are at high risk for severe consequences from COVID-19. While this necessitates self-isolation to help mitigate spread and reduce their chances of contraction, the ensuing seclusion is not without its own health risks. The National Academy of Sciences discovered that social isolation and loneliness increase the risk of anxiety, depression, and even premature death in the elderly. Not everyone who is socially isolated (defined as lack of social connections) is lonely and not everyone who feels lonely is socially isolated. Elderly individuals are at higher risk for loneliness and/or social isolation because of factors like living alone, losing friends and family, having a chronic illness, or experiencing hearing loss.

Whether experienced together or separately, loneliness and social isolation are referred to as “poor social relationships,” which increase the risk of heart disease by 29%, stroke by 32%, and dementia by 50%. Among people with heart failure specifically, loneliness was linked to a 4-fold increase in the risk of death, a 68% increased chance of hospitalization, and a 57% rise in emergency department visits.

Disrupted Routines Replaced with Distanced Connections

Many elderly individuals have limited social contact, often restricted to places of worship or community centers. Even routine public encounters in local businesses like grocery stores, pharmacies, or coffee shops are no longer available to the same extent, due to protections set in place against COVID-19. In addition, those who lack close friends or family, or who had relied on care from either paid caregivers or voluntary services, as well as those who were already isolated, are at an increased risk of loneliness and associated health concerns.

Seeking to alleviate the physical and emotional isolation of at-risk seniors, Rabbi Marcia Plumb of Congregation Mishkan Tefila in Brookline, Massachusetts developed the Silverlining Buddy program to replicate volunteer and visiting programs that existed prior to COVID-19. This virtual program is an intergenerational collaboration, managed by Wendy Handler, designed to foster relationships between seniors and college students or young professionals. Understanding the difficulty that technology can present for some seniors, Rabbi Plumb conceived the program as an old fashioned, basic pairing of individuals through telephone contact. With the support of Combined Jewish Philanthropies (CJP), a non-profit organization in Boston, they are expanding the program to use Zoom or other technologies.

The program has successfully matched more than 100 buddy pairs

The program has successfully matched more than 100 buddy pairs, based on community needs and availability. Young adult volunteers undergo basic training and then typically connect with their senior buddies at least once a week. They discuss a myriad of topics ranging from personal life stories to politics to the science behind COVID-19. While the program was initially designed to help reduce loneliness among older adults, Ms. Handler says the program has shifted into more of an equal relationship where the young volunteers get just as much out of the experience as the older adults.

Unexpected Life Parallels

Rosalie, a senior buddy, became involved in the program through her synagogue; she thought it would be fun to talk to someone from a younger generation. She and her buddy, Nikki, a college junior, have a lot in common. Both grew up in Brooklyn, New York. Both had family members who were Holocaust survivors, and they share similar political views. Conversations between Rosalie and Nikki run the gamut from their personal lives, including gardening (a hobby of Rosalie’s) and travel to politics and science. They even exchange recommendations for good books and show each other photos over facetime. Rosalie likes hearing about changes in Brooklyn and she also now appreciates how the pandemic has imposed limitations on the younger generation still in college too. Rosalie says that she and Nikki never run out of topics and that her young companion asks thoughtful questions that make her reflect. “It’s comforting to talk to [Nikki] and hear about her life,” Rosalie said. “I think [the Silverlining Buddy System] is a very interesting and fun concept and perhaps, even after COVID, it would be good to keep it up.” 

Nikki became involved in the program through Companions to Elders, a community service program she helps coordinate for her university. Nikki relays that “[the experience] has made me insert more perspective into my day to day life, because it’s so easy to get absorbed into the bubble of college, when I’m at college, or of my childhood bedroom which I’ve been trapped in for six months! Leaving that world to talk to someone who is pretty far out of that environment gives me more perspective. Takes me out of my head.”

Leaving that world to talk to someone who is pretty far out of that environment gives me more perspective. Takes me out of my head.”

Emma, another student buddy, is a college senior majoring in biology. She said that volunteering has given her the opportunity to empathize with someone older and wiser, and helped broaden her view of the world. “If Marylin (her buddy), who has lived through many ups and downs in history still has hope that we’ll go back to normal day to day life, and is still enjoying each day; I think that just shows that we all should be thankful for what we can do and what we do have during this time.”

The Silver Lining Buddy System offers a unique opportunity that provides a meaningful connection during a time when many of us are feeling disconnected. It should serve as a role model to spawn similar programs. 

Written & Reported by Giovi Hersch
Edited by Dr. Jacki Hart

Reports Lag Behind Surges of Abuse & Domestic Violence

My Covid Story:

As Law Enforcement Partnership Coordinator at RESPOND, Victoria H has helped 100s of DV survivors from all over the world not only find safety but also success.

Nobody is immune to the impacts of COVID-19 on the way we live, but the consequences can be particularly severe for those suffering from domestic abuse. Numerous studies suggest that levels of violence have increased due to the toxic mix of heightened economic pressures, health-related issues, and “stay at home” rules that increase exposure to tense or already abusive relationships and eliminate a victim’s access to safe spaces during the day. These trends are further complicated by greater difficulties reaching out for help and getting access to the usual support organizations in one’s community.  

Stay-At-Home Rules Leave Jane Trapped

The story of Jane (name changed for privacy), a suburban high school student, begins in a way that is all too common within the foster care system – a teen reaching out to her school for help escaping from an abusive home. From that starting point, Jane faced hurdle after hurdle in her quest for safety because her cry for help took place during the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic.  

On March 12th, Jane contacted her high school to say that recent “stay at home” rules left her trapped around the clock in an abusive home. Administrators worked diligently to set up a day in court. However, on the day of Jane’s scheduled hearing, courts across her state were shut down indefinitely. In the days that followed, social workers from the Department of Children and Families (DCF) navigated the new rules and managed to find Jane a safe home, only to watch their plans crumble once again – this time because a member of the foster-family tested positive for COVID-19. Luckily, local police worked closely with school administrators and DCF to keep a watchful eye on Jane’s abusive family while the support service agencies searched for another solution.  

Eventually, they found a safe new home for Jane. Nonetheless,

Jane’s harrowing story highlights the range of difficulties faced by those experiencing domestic abuse in the COVID-19 era

Jane’s harrowing story highlights the range of difficulties faced by those experiencing domestic abuse in the COVID-19 era, from the violence and trauma itself to the risk of contracting the virus from a stranger to adjusting to a whole new living circumstance at a time that is already fraught with fear and uncertainty. 

What Do the Experts Say?

Victoria Helberg, an employee at Respond (an organization that works with victims of domestic violence) noted how life during the pandemic makes it hard for those in need to reach out for help or to be identified by the community. Ms. Helberg said that there was a decrease in calls to Respond at the start of the pandemic. This trend may seem counterintuitive. But, as Ms. Helberg explains “people don’t have the opportunity to make calls because they were now at home with their abusive partner.”

people don’t have the opportunity to make calls because they were now at home with their abusive partner.

Ms. Helberg’s experience was echoed by a United Nations (UN) report that there has been a notable decrease in domestic violence reports during lockdown. Confirming Ms. Helberg’s real-life experience, the UN speculates that this is due to the hesitance of women to find help or address these incidents when forced to share their lockdown space with their abusers.

Despite increased difficulties reaching out for help reported by many experts, certain locations have still noted a spike in hotline activity regarding abuse. In Spain, the domestic violence hotline received 18% more calls in the first two weeks of lockdown than in the same period just one month earlier. Similarly, the United States and France reported roughly 30% increases in domestic complaints or occurrences of violence. These numbers are striking; yet, based on Ms. Helberg’s experience and the United Nations report, these statistics likely still underestimate the actual increase in incidents of abuse. For example,

Google noticed a 75% increase in Internet searches regarding support for domestic violence in Australia

Google noticed a 75% increase in Internet searches regarding support for domestic violence in Australia, demonstrating the large sum of victims who have likely been unable to receive help during the pandemic but are scouring the web for help. 

No Safe Space

The surge in cases of domestic abuse is also complicated by a lack of access to safe spaces for victims. Ms. Helberg states that “before, their abusive partner may be off to work, or they would be off to work, and they would have those kinds of moments in between to make [such] calls.” With no access to those private times and spaces today, difficult situations are made worse. Even children witnessing or experiencing abuse would rely more on the safety of schools and other locations for both a break from their homes and a place to get help. 

children witnessing or experiencing abuse would rely more on the safety of schools and other locations for both a break from their homes and a place to get help.

How Nations and Localities are Responding to this Crisis within a Crisis

During this extreme time, nations and local organizations have been taking the issue of abuse and domestic violence seriously. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres recently brought to light the importance of countries prioritizing support for those dealing with domestic violence. As a result, in France (for example), grocery stores set up a system using certain signals or code words to let the staff know that they need help. Around the globe, local organizations such as Respond have been helping as well, providing many services 100% virtually, while continuing to keep their shelter program staffed 24/7. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has created numerous additional complications for victims of abuse. At the same time, it is helping to shine a light on the seriousness of the ongoing problem and the need for vigilance. Even post-pandemic, governments and organizations need to continue to uncover the incidents, address the challenges, and create viable solutions to end domestic abuse and temper its devastating impact. 

Written & Reported by Ella Gavin; Edited by Dr. Jacki Hart

Recovery Requires Justice; It’s a Matter of Public Health

A Reflection By: Dr. Jacki Hart
“We’ve been risking our lives for freedom since you brought us here.”

– Eddie Gaulet, PhD, Princeton University, Chair of the Department of African American Studies

“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”

– Archbishop Desmond Tutu, OMSG, CH, GCStJ, Theologian and Human Rights Advocate, Noble Peace Prize recipient

This has been a heart wrenching week. As the worldwide death toll from coronavirus soars close to 400,000, with more than one-third occurring in the United States, global attention has turned to a cancerous pandemic that has infested our country for centuries. In the midst of the devastating reality of health, economic, and social inequities highlighted by the viral pandemic, we’ve all witnessed barbaric, fatal outcomes fueled by racism in the last several weeks. 

The systemic oppression is not new. George Floyd’s words hark back to an equally horrific, racist act a few years ago when Eric Garner also pleaded with police officers perpetrating the crime. “I cannot breathe,” each man cried while being stripped of his life.

George and Eric should still be alive. As should Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade, and countless other black people who have been killed because of racism, racial injustice, and inexplicable indignities.   

We are facing two public health crises: an acute one from a novel virus that has required intense intervention to stop its spread. And a deep-rooted, metastatic disease that has existed since our country’s inception. 

The death of George Floyd and all that it represents has taken precedence right now over the coronavirus pandemic. One is chronic and ubiquitous. The other is an acute infection that will last a long time with many terrible outcomes and possible long-term sequela. But vaccines and treatment for coronavirus will ultimately be discovered, tested, and distributed. In cities throughout the world, hundreds-of-thousands have decided that the potential risk of contracting the virus in large crowds is necessary in order to disrupt the noxious pandemic of systemic racism and police brutality. 


When we launched this website, we wanted to provide a sense of hope and possibility. We wanted to share stories of real people experiencing real recovery from COVID-19. Through their stories, we want to help each of you see yourselves in everyday people – experiences that you, too, may have had related to the virus and other experiences that may come as a surprise. However, in the wake of George Floyd’s death with the universally heightened grief, pain, anger, and outrage, in the setting of layers of countless societal ills already exposed by the virus, how do we have a sense of hope right now? How do we foster optimism? 

One glimmer that I try to hang on to is that, given the despicable ways in which the undeniable toxicity of police brutality against black Americans has triggered collective rage this time, perhaps all of us will finally commit to and work for cultural change. That may sound naive, since generations of equally deplorable acts should have evoked this level of widespread outrage, no matter your race. But others, too, are noticing a shift. In a New York Times article covering the recent protests, a participant named Sharhonda Bossier was quoted as saying, “What feels different about right now is people are angry for themselves in a way that we did not see outside of black people four years ago.” 

Perhaps the backdrop of the infectious pandemic is contributing to a palpable change? The virus itself unearthed the glaring disparities in our health, economic, and social structures. Maybe everyone is finally recognizing that the status quo is wrong, harmful, and deadly. Even before the murder of George Floyd, COVID-19 rendered it crystal clear that once the cure and safe, preventative immunization are established, complacently slipping back to work and life as “usual” should not be an option. We must revamp and revitalize, not return and restore. The demonstrations across the nation and the globe emphasize that given the combination of simultaneous pandemics – one chronic and cancerous, the other acute and infectious – recovery should mean change, righting the wrongs of every type of injustice. 

If we, the human race of researchers, scientists, healthcare workers, and system organizers, are smart and resourceful enough to develop a vaccine at rapid speed, and distribute it to everyone, then we can also design a country and a world that live up to our ideals of equity, justice, and fairness. We can, and we should, address every single indignity and indiscretion head on, not only those caught on camera.  

The time, perhaps the reckoning, has come. Not one of us has the luxury to deny our roles in this extremely complicated system and history that is founded on inhumane oppression.

A few pieces this week that have touched me deeply: (1) Trevor Noah’s monologue. (2) A poem shared with me by a newfound friend originally from Chile. (3) A slam poem delivered by Playon Patrick. 


There is a tremendous amount to be done and it can feel overwhelming to know where to begin, especially while the acute viral pandemic is a current reality. A few concrete steps to consider, particularly if you are, understandably, worried and uncomfortable about protesting during the COVID-19 pandemic but you still want to exercise your support and make strides toward change: