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Genafriend: A Student-led Non-Profit/Initiative

Although we have to be physically distant, it does not mean we have to be socially distant. This was what inspired 16-year-old Evy Hwangbo to begin Genafriend: A Project Connecting Socially Disconnected Elderly Citizens with Keen Youth.

Evy’s grandpa is at a rest home in South Korea and her grandma lives alone in Christchurch. Over the lockdown period, Evy heard from them about the widespread loneliness and social disconnection that exists for senior citizens. Especially in times like these when physical distancing is required, it is difficult for the elderly to stay connected, which encourages negative mental and emotional states to be cultivated. 

She began Genafriend to help combat this issue: connecting the youth and the elderly via weekly video calls.

Since founding Genafriend, Evy has worked hard alongside her team, full of passionate teens just like her. Since starting in mid-April, Genafriend has paired 24 student volunteers from across New Zealand with 24 elderly citizens and they have started their weekly calls. The feedback so far has been overwhelmingly positive, with both the students and elderly citizens enjoying the social connection. 

Some of the feedback included: “Went away with a huge smile on my face, she was just so lovely, and I can’t wait to get to know her more!”

“She knits too! We have to share patterns and projects!”

Genafriend is already working hard to expand and connect more youth and elderly, with 4 retirement villages keen to get on board, and over 100 applications from students to become volunteers. Currently focused mainly in Auckland, Genafriend is looking to expand and get students and seniors involved from all over New Zealand. The team at Genafriend is in the stage of developing an easy way for more senior citizens to join Genafriend, particularly those who live in their own homes but may enjoy a weekly chat with someone. Genafriend is about to have their second cohort of students and senior citizens begin weekly calls, bringing the total number of calling members past 100! Moving forward Genafriend is looking at having interactive calls such as quiz nights or even arranging group visits where the student volunteers and senior citizens can form even more wonderful friendships with others in the Genafriend initiative. Genafriend is constantly striving to build positive relationships between generations.

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