Friends Through The Ages

Group forges bonds between seniors and college students

Carrie Hodousek
November 26, 2019 - 11:47 pm

Senior citizens often need all the help they can get when it comes to building social connections as they age.

Mon Ami, based in Palo Alto, is an organization that is working to fill that communication gap. College students are paired with elderly people across the Bay Area to offer companionship.

Instead of finding someone to tend to your loved one, you can schedule a one-on-one visit with a young person to go to museums, learn a new language or simply share a good laugh.

Jean Doble, 76, lives alone in her Palo Alto apartment. Using a walker to get around, she said she often feels isolated because her family lives far away.

"You get an island mentality when you feel like you can't get out," she said.

Madeline Dangerfield-Cha, a Stanford University graduate and co-founder of Mon Ami, visits Doble for a few hours each week to help her with cooking, cleaning and other house chores that sometimes lead to meaningful conversations.

"Reorganizing the cabinets and cleaning a few things out was an opportunity for her to tell some stories about her jewelry that was stored in there or gifts from her daughter," said Dangerfield-Cha. "What had started as a really annoying task, was actually a delightful way to spend a few hours together."

Jean Doble, 76, spends time Madeline Dangerfield-Cha, the co-founder of Mon Ami.
Carrie Hodousek/KCBS Radio

The generation gap can sometimes offer a good laugh between the two.

"I was going to a potluck and she deviled by hard boiled eggs. It turned out she had never done that before. I thought that hysterically funny," Doble said.

Beyond care for basic physical needs, Mon Ami believes meaningful human connection can play a key role in healthy aging and has been shown to greatly improve quality of life.

"They're so energetic, upbeat, lively and positive. They really want to help," Doble said of the Mon Ami companions.

Mon Ami focuses on life enrichment not just life extension. Since they were founded in 2018, they have served over 300 families across the Bay Area.

Steve, who suffers from early stages of dementia, likes to join his companion Gordon on hikes in the East Bay.

"I like his personality. He's fun to walk with," Steve told KCBS Radio on a walk through Tilden Regional Park. "I like to explain things to people that want to know more about this kind of thing."

While Gordon is there to offer Steve social support, he's also learning from him along the way.

"He's taught me a lot about birds and types of trees," said Gordon. "It's been good to see the passion of his that he likes but also being able to see things that I otherwise wouldn't be able to see on on my own."

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