We’re all looking for silver linings right now. Happily, there’s a real one in the SilverLining Buddy System, a program that pairs young adult volunteers with seniors for friendly chats and check-ins.

With support from CJP, Congregation Mishkan Tefila matches housebound college students (older high-schoolers are also welcome) with seniors for weekly phone calls.

“We want to reduce the effects of social and physical distancing that seniors have been feeling since COVID-19. And at the same time, I feel like seniors have a lot to offer younger adults. When the connection works, and it works well, there is a wealth of information and learning that is shared between both parties,” says Wendy Handler, who organizes the program at Mishkan Tefila.

Twenty-somethings craving structure love it, too.

“I don’t have a grandmother who lives locally, but now I feel I do. My buddy has become a mentor and gives me advice. She helps me think about my future career and what I might want to do with my life. This is definitely not a ‘pity call.’ She is giving me more than I am giving her,” says one of the volunteers.


Another has begun speaking to her senior in Hebrew and swaps music tips. Another pair compare stories of living in New York City and share news from The Wall Street Journal. The fact that the conversations happen by phone enhances the connection too—without a visual, volunteers say it’s easier to bridge the generation gap.

“Because I was talking to Norma by telephone and didn’t have a visual impression of her, I was more able to see her as a person and less affected by her age,” another volunteer shares.

Handler says that college students find that the once- or twice-weekly time commitment is manageable (especially with unstructured hours on their hands). It also helps them avoid screen time, she says.

“It’s forcing them to get on their phones and develop their social skills and talk with people, which is something they don’t often do,” she says. “It can be really hard to develop a relationship with a person from scratch whom you don’t know, and it takes patience to give the process a chance to develop and wait and see over time. I think that’s an excellent skill that our young people need to learn, to have the patience to watch the process unfold and develop.”

Volunteers check in with a SilverLining supervisor regularly for conversation-starting advice and to report any issues with their senior, such as trouble obtaining food.

SilverLining has partnered with Jewish day schools throughout the area, as well as local synagogues and summer camps, since many counselors have been furloughed or not hired due to the pandemic, and they’re still looking for volunteers as COVID-19 persists.

“Sometimes we think about young people on one part of the spectrum and older people on the opposite side of the continuum, and it’s really interesting when these two groups come together for individual conversation, to find out how much they have in common, how much the human experience they could share and the commonalities that they never, ever expected to find,” Handler says.

Learn more about the SilverLining Buddy System here.