Williams College student Regina Fink works with Federation to create Caring Pals outreach to isolated Berkshire seniors
Last autumn and winter, the Jewish Federation of the Berkshires helped create Caring Pals, a community outreach program conceived by Williams College junior Regina Fink to connect student volunteers with local seniors living in pandemic isolation. These connections were facilitated by Federation’s Coordinator of Volunteers Susan Frisch Lehrer and our social worker, Jill Goldstein. Here, in Regina’s own words, are some Caring Pals stories.
By Regina Fink / Special to the BJV
We’ve all heard variations of the phrase so many times that it has become like a mantra – “These unprecedented times have created unprecedented uncertainty and, especially among already vulnerable populations, unprecedented loneliness.”
This longing for communication is felt across the generational divide – students must adapt to digital college, and seniors are no longer able to participate in their community activities in person. In response, the Jewish value of Tikkun Olam prompted Williams College students to do something unprecedented.
The obligation to make the world a better place or to heal the world feels at times daunting or overwhelming, but grounding this responsibility in what we can do locally, here and now, allows us to take the first step. Small acts of compassion and connection can together be the healing we need in the world and in ourselves.
Feeling the pandemic-induced need for connection myself – and knowing how much it must be magnified for older adults without access to technology – I reached out to Federation’s Jenny Greenfeld, the mother of my friends (and recent Williams graduates) Emma and Jacob Lezberg. She quickly connected me with volunteer coordinator Susan Frisch Lehrer and social worker Jill Goldstein, who both harbor a wealth of knowledge and experience about connecting with older adults. I called Susan to discuss our hopes for a cross-generational connection between Williams College and the Federation, and soon the Caring Pals program was born!
After matching twelve Williams students with seniors, Susan and Jill led an orientation and we started contacting our Pals soon after. Our experiences have been filled with the sweetness of connection, even virtually.
The wonderful Bellamy R. described how she has enjoyed calling her pal, Ms. P, every week:
“Neither of us are doing anything particularly exciting right now, but it's nice to just chat about what shows we're watching on television or what music we're listening to. She has shared a lot of great stories with me and she enjoys listening to what my life is like as a student at Williams. She used to live in NYC so she enjoys hearing about how things are in NYC right now from me.”
Arguably most importantly, they have been emailing photos of their pets to one another, extending their intergenerational connection across species.
Megan S., a Fulbright Scholar and Williams grad says she feels very fortunate to have been paired with her pal, Mrs. K.
“She has led an incredibly inspiring life, working to uplift and support the Berkshire community — a mission that I also held near and dear to my heart during my time on the Community Service Board at Williams. From learning about her role in settling refugees, to her dedication to accessibility and equality within her temple, to hearing fun stories about her genealogy project, I have thoroughly enjoyed and found hope in my [Caring Pal’s] company.”
In true Jewish-grandmother-matchmaker-fashion, Kasey S.’s pal attempted to set her up with her grandson.
Personally, calling my pal, Ms. S, has been quite joyful. On our first call we realized we share both a love of caramel and social justice, and I am very excited to learn more about her.
I am so grateful to Susan and Jill at the Federation, the Williams students, and the participating seniors who have helped make this program a success. Please contact Susan Frisch Lehrer or Jill Goldstein if you would like to get involved!
Regina Fink is a Williams College junior majoring in Environmental Studies and Spanish.
For more information on Caring Pals, please contact Federation’s Coordinator of Volunteers Susan Frisch Lehrer at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling (413) 442-4360, ext. 14.