Carleton athletes connect with isolated seniors during pandemic

A pandemic program connecting student-athletes at Carleton University and older adults at the Glebe Centre is helping people in the long-term care home feel less isolated. 

Students using some of their time freed up by cancelled seasons

Varsity rugby player Zoe Totten-Coulter has been chatting with seniors who haven't been able to socialize very much during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Jean Delisle/CBC)

A pandemic program connecting student-athletes at Carleton University and older adults at a nearby long-term care home is helping its residents feel less isolated. 

Seventy-eight-year-old Frances Arbour used to spend most of her time away from the care home going to the movies, dinners and visits with friends and family.

Under COVID-19 restrictions for the last several months, she's only been able to go out for medical appointments and short walks.

"My life is what I would call 'extremely boring,'" said Arbour.

"It's difficult … I've lived a very, very, very active life, right? And so to be sort of secluded is very strange."

Abour said she's appreciated chatting with varsity rugby player Zoe Totten-Coulter, 20, for the last few months.

WATCH | Program helping residents adjust to rules:

‘To be secluded is very strange’: Seniors connect with students to fight isolation

CBC News Ottawa

17 days agoVideo
Frances Arbour, who lives at the Glebe Centre, says talking with 20-year-old Carleton student Zoe Totten-Coulter has been helpful during the pandemic as her other social activities have been mostly put on hold. 1:21

Totten-Coulter, in her third year studying anthropology with a minor in sign language, said it's interesting learning about Arbour's career as a human rights worker that brought her all over Latin America. 

"I just think it has a lot of benefits both ways. It's a good study break for me. I've learned lots from both the people I've been talking with," said Totten-Coulter. 

She's also getting a chance to practice her sign language because she video chats with another person who requires it. 

Totten-Coulter said the connection has been good for her mental health. 

"The Ottawa community gives a lot to us so I think it's really nice to be able to give back."

WATCH | The benefits to both sides:

Student athletes connect with local seniors during COVID-19 pandemic

CBC News Ottawa

17 days agoVideo
Zoe Totten-Coulter says the program connecting residents of long-term care homes with student athletes has helped fight the isolating effects of the pandemic. 0:42

Kwesi Loney, head coach of soccer operations at Carleton, came up with the idea in the summer and says community outreach is a goal for the university's sports teams.

While athletes are training and practicing, competition has been on hold

They're not on that stage from a competitive perspective, they are on the stage from an opportunity to grow.— Kwesi Loney, Carleton University soccer coach

"Although we are not able to compete on the field or the court of the ice, our community was facing adversity. And we felt as part of the greater team, which is Ottawa, that we had a responsibility to support and uplift our community in any way possible," said Loney.  

He said about 10 to 15 students are taking part and hopes the project will continue in the future. Some athletes who didn't return to campus are still connecting because they can do it over the phone or virtually. 

"Even though they're not on that stage from a competitive perspective, they are on the stage from an opportunity to grow and expand themselves," said Loney.

"We feel like these programs are very significant for a young person's growth."

WATCH | How the architect feels the program is going:

‘We had a responsibility to support and uplift our community’

CBC News Ottawa

17 days agoVideo
Kwesi Loney, Carleton University soccer coach, says student athletes have been enthusiastic about the program, fueled by a desire to support the community during the pandemic. 1:10

Abbotsford House, which organizes community programs for the Glebe Centre, makes sure the students and older adults are a good match before they connect.  

Totten-Coulter and Arbour hope to meet up in person post-pandemic when it's safe to do so. 

About the Author

Krystalle Ramlakhan is a multi-platform journalist with CBC Ottawa. She has also worked for CBC in P.E.I., Winnipeg and Iqaluit.

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