Community Friends Program aims to connect students with faculty, staff for friendly support
Alfred University faculty, staff and administrators realized during the fall semester that students were experiencing and suffering from unusual levels of emotional isolation as a result of social distancing requirements stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Alfred University faculty, staff and administrators realized during the fall semester that students were experiencing and suffering from unusual levels of emotional isolation as a result of social distancing requirements stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic. Many Alfred University employees began wondering how they could help, and as a result, a new program is in the planning stages that organizers hope will mitigate loneliness and physical isolation arising from the pandemic.
The Community Friends Program aims to connect individual students with faculty or staff volunteers during the spring semester – and possibly beyond. Organizers such as Ellen Bahr, Systems Librarian at Herrick Library, stress the program is not intended to replace specialized student services such as academic advising, tutoring, or mental health counseling.
“The amount of interaction between the student and the volunteer is entirely up to the student and the volunteer,” Bahr says. “Support may be temporary, such as picking up a needed item at the store, or longer-term, such as reaching out more regularly for assistance and conversation. It all depends on what the student prefers.”
With the COVID-19 pandemic expected to continue into the spring, even as vaccines become more available, Bahr said students and volunteers will have to continue social distancing protocols, even while enjoying some sociable contact. “People who volunteer will need to follow social distancing guidelines, but can still provide support for students by picking up something from a grocery store or a pharmacy, delivering some homemade cookies, or just having a conversation.”
Organizers working on the program, which includes representatives from the Faculty Senate, Support Staff Council, and Administrative & Technical Specialists Council, are in the process of coordinating with the University’s Office of Student Affairs and Office of Student Wellbeing. They also are developing a list of volunteers for when students begin returning to the campus in January. More information on the Community Friends Program will be emerging over the following weeks, but for now Bahr says any faculty or staff member interested in volunteering should email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.