According to the HRSA, loneliness is as harmful to one’s health as smoking 15 cigarettes daily. Loneliness can affect anyone, no matter their age, gender, or nationality. However, while the COVID-19 pandemic has forced everyone into social isolation, senior citizens are the hardest hit.

Seniors are more likely to live alone or within retirement homes, which further reduces their ability to connect to others during a pandemic. Indeed, retirement homes have been limiting outside visitors so as to protect the physical health of the residents within, to the detriment of their mental health.

Further, high school students are facing a similar uptick in loneliness. Barred from interacting with friends and classmates, students are left in an indefinite and disconcerting state of isolation.

So my friend Jackson Tanner and I have started an initiative, called Senior Salutations, to combat the loneliness faced by seniors and students. Senior Salutations connects Oak Park and River Forest High School students as pen pals to local senior citizens living in retirement homes. We aim to lessen the mental health consequences of prolonged isolation in both groups.

Moreover, we hope to foster intergenerational communication and empathy, the benefits of which will extend long past quarantine’s end. At the very least, letter-writing is a soothing hobby to occupy these idle days of social-distancing.

All students from OPRF High School are welcome to participate! To sign up, all you need to do is enter your information into the link below, so we can connect you to a local senior citizen.

Eleanor Sigel

Oak Park

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