Latin Alumni Call Older Alumni to Combat Loneliness

Connor Kaniewski '17, champion of the Golden Roman outreach program

Connor Kaniewski via Twitter

Connor Kaniewski ’17, champion of the Golden Roman outreach program

By Akshay Garapati, Latin School of Chicago

After graduating from Latin in 2017, Connor Kaniewski looked for a way to give back to the Latin community. He learned that sometimes all it takes is a simple phone call.

This act has proven invaluable amid the COVID-19 pandemic, which has lasted nearly eight months and killed over 200,000 people in the U.S.

When Connor unexpectedly returned home from Wake Forest University in March, he immediately began brainstorming ways to help those in need—people who were lonely, suffering and vulnerable. He soon contacted Stephanie Chu, Director of Alumni Relations at Latin.

Fortunately, the alumni office had just created the Golden Roman check-in program. The program reaches out to older alumni by phone to provide a sense of comfort, community and joy.

“If they didn’t have an email address, we knew that we weren’t connecting with them,” Ms. Chu said. “So we wanted a way to touch base, see if they were okay, make them feel less isolated.”

Connor immediately got to work, calling a few people a week, and ultimately made more than 350 outreach calls to alumni from the classes of 1937 through 1955. One call, in particular, stood out to him.

“There was an alumnus who was in New York, and she was having a very difficult time going to run her basic errands of grocery shopping, going to the pharmacy for her medicine, and getting some cleaning supplies,” he said. “I was able to connect her with the alumni office, and then a Latin alumnus was able to drive out to her and conduct some errands for the older alumnus.”

Reflecting on the experience, Connor said, “I felt like I was making a difference. Because, you know, some calls went straight to voicemail or the conversation was very quick, or they assumed I was asking for money and they didn’t really comprehend the purpose of the call. But when someone was able to open up, be vulnerable, and be honest is when the program was the most successful.”

Connor contacted many more Romans. “I heard 10 to 15 stories about when [the alumni] were students and what it was like,” he said. “They were remembering memories that they had ultimately almost forgotten.”

One of the alumni fortunate enough to receive a call from Connor was Shelly Hartney, a graduate of the class of 1952.

When asked about Connor’s call, Hartney said, “I remembered the memories of playing softball and field hockey right outside of school. It was nice to remember those things.”

Connor expressed how much the alumni he spoke with enjoyed learning these new things, keeping up to date with their former school, and bringing joyous memories back to mind.

“There has been a backward focus in terms of connecting with people,” Connor said. “It’s really important, in my opinion, to call people and talk to them on the phone.”

He said he also wishes more schools would sponsor activities like the Golden Roman check-in program, because it can be done with a call that takes only a few minutes and yet has a much larger impact than most people realize.

Although the Golden Roman check-in program is coming to an end, Ms. Chu said, “It would be nice if students could get involved. We would love for some people to just write a notecard. I think that goes a long way in keeping in touch in a very digital world with people who aren’t as digitally oriented as we are.”

A simple good deed, phone call, or notecard can make someone’s day, especially during the challenging COVID-19 pandemic. Connor added, “I think that it is a really good moment right now to take some time and focus on your relationships, whether that is connecting with former sports teams, clubs, teachers, and even friends.”

This story was originally published on The Forum on October 17, 2020.