By Eleanor Keohane
Founded by Christine Xu in New York City at the start of the March 2020 lockdown, GensConnect is a New-York-based student-led organization operated by a small group of high school students around the world.
During the pandemic, Christine and her family spent a lot of time calling her grandparents in China to check that they were safe and to make them feel less isolated and lonely. In doing so, Christine became aware that there were seniors closer to home that were also suffering from isolation, loneliness, and depression.
As a result, she decided to start a remote volunteering program called GensConnect where senior citizens and high school students in the greater New York area could connect and form meaningful friendships.
India Jayanti, (Vice President of GensConnect) was one of the first volunteers to apply to GensConnect in early April of 2020. She was inspired by her own family and wanted to make a difference in her community, form supportive relationships with a different generation, and learn more about the struggles of the elderly. Since then, India has taken on a larger role and has been a major part of GensConnect’s organization and expansion. Both Christine and India feel protecting the rights and emotional wellbeing of senior citizens is vital.
GensConnect’s mission is to facilitate meaningful relationships for both the students and seniors. GensConnect cares about helping seniors have a better quality of life and seeks to educate volunteers about the struggles of senior citizens, including loneliness, access to healthcare, and financial exploitation. GensConnect believes that our generation has a role to play in respecting and advocating for the rights of the expanding senior population through human connection.
GensConnect has over 100 student volunteers all over the world, and partners with different senior centers. In New York, for example, the organization works with seniors at the New York Foundation for Senior Citizens (NYFSC) and Union Settlement Senior Centers.
In addition to the New York location, GensConnect has branches in Washington, Kolkata, Michigan, and California and is always open to expanding their reach with new branches. GensConnect hosts free virtual viewing events for the seniors with NYFSC and the Theater Development Fund (TDF) for English, Mandarin, and Spanish-speaking groups. Every month, GensConnect shares performances and has volunteers facilitate discussions around the show. GensConnect also helps seniors navigate technology, assists them in writing letters to their pen pals in England and Australia, and writes letters of emotional support to seniors struggling with cancer.
GensConnect aims to maximize the impact of their volunteers by partnering with more senior centers and organizations. They hope to continue to lift the spirits of seniors through events and intergenerational friendships, and adapt their strategies to fit the ever-shifting landscape of the COVID-19 pandemic.