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A spirit that is not afraid

Senior Pals fosters friendships between students, older people

<p>Anthony Spafford and Clare Promer began Senior Pals after volunteering at a home for the elderly and enjoying conversation with residents.</p>

Anthony Spafford and Clare Promer began Senior Pals after volunteering at a home for the elderly and enjoying conversation with residents.

A new club called Senior Pals at Auburn University focuses on partnering students with older residents of the Auburn community. The club was started this semester by Clare Promer, junior in accounting, and Anthony Spafford, senior in architecture, who spent their time volunteering at a local nursing home in Auburn last year. 

“It started when Anthony and I were in search of something in the community that we could join to serve others,” Promer said. “We wanted something that was more person-to-person interaction.”

During the fall 2019 semester, Promer and Spafford started volunteering at a local nursing home. They would go to the cafeteria and strike up conversation with many of the residents there. 

“We really enjoyed going because the residents would always tell us stories about their lives,” Promer said. “Whenever we left, we always were sad because we really wanted to get to know more of the residents and be able to have more conversations with all the different people who lived there.”

Promer and Spafford both said these conversations were very enjoyable not only for the residents, but for them, too.

“When we would sit in the community room, at first there would only be a couple of the residents talking to us, but by the time we left it felt like the whole community had gathered in that room,” Spafford said. “They would always ask what club we were there with, but we would tell them we were just there to visit on our own accord.”

These conversations were what sparked the idea of Senior Pals at Auburn University. Promer mentioned that she wanted to start a club to get more students involved with coming and having meaningful conversations with older people. Spafford and Promer saw an ad in the newspaper for starting a club and brought the idea into action. 

The club recently partnered with The Big Event for students to write, call or visit those residents who still live in their own houses during the upcoming TBE 2021 event. 

“Since these senior citizens still live in their own house, we have had some request that the student who they are paired with could come visit them at points in the semester,” Promer said. “Since it is at their own homes, we are allowing the senior citizens to make their own decisions with the way they would like to communicate.”

Currently, the club has more student volunteers than senior citizens signed up. Spafford said that the club is pairing multiple students with one senior to account for this disproportionate ratio.

“Since we are pairing students with a senior citizen for the year, we see this as a long-term relationship that can nurture and grow through the years,” Spafford said. “This is what makes our organization different than those that go to visit nursing homes.”

Spafford and Promer said that anyone could join the organization as long as they were willing to put in the time to foster a meaningful friendship with their senior partner. Promer explained that this is crucial because the club does not want to assign a senior citizen a student pal who never invests in the friendship. 

Eventually, Promer said, the club will have two separate roles — one that is more of the administrative side and the other that is students who will foster relationships with their senior pairings. 

At the moment, all of the senior citizens signed up for the program are through The Big Event. Promer explained that some of the residents said they had friends interested in joining, too. The club is hoping that some other senior citizens will sign up for the program by hearing about it and from other advertising means. 

The first meeting for Senior Pals at Auburn University will be on Thursday, Oct. 8, outside on Samford Lawn. This is where they will pair students with senior citizens and assign the more administrative roles of the club.

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