Florida program combatting senior loneliness by connecting them with college students

When Andrew Parker’s grandfather began suffering from dementia three years ago, his grandmother had to care for him. It was hard work, and one day, Parker got the idea to hire a college student to help. “I said, ‘Hey, can you go hang out with my grandfather and make him a sandwich or something? I’ll pay you; let’s see how it goes.’  ”

His grandfather loved it. And so did his grandmother. For a few hours, he said, “She got to go do her own thing.”

It got Parker thinking. “There’s so many seniors and so many college students out there.” So the 30-year-old Miami resident launched a business called Papa, after his name for his grandfather. It connects students with seniors for light housekeeping or driving chores, but the company’s real goal is in its slogan: “Grandkids on-Demand.”

“We are specifically a service that links two generations,” Parker said. “Our emphasis is this is a really fun day for a senior. Someone who might say, ‘I don’t want to bother my daughter or son but I want someone who can be with me for a day.’ ”

To date, the company has around 250 members who pay a monthly fee of $15 to $30 to belong, and then pay $15 per hour for visits by students, or Papa Pals. Pals must be enrolled in a four-year college, or be working on a master’s degree, a social work degree, or a nursing or medical degree. They must have a four-door car and pass a background check. And they are given a personality test, which looks for people with empathy and patience and the ability to draw people out in conversation.

“The biggest thing we’re focusing on is curing loneliness,” Parker said. “If a senior calls, they’re not calling and saying, ‘I’m lonely.’ But what starts as a visit to a doctor or a grocery store can go from a two-hour visit to a ten-hour visit.”

One member brought a Papa Pal to a wedding. Another member was on the campaign trail with Ronald Reagan and is working on a book about it; three Papa Pals are helping her.

This article was originally published by Star Tribune.


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