Intergenerational conversations help ease isolation for young and old

‘YSOP Connex’ engages small groups of teens and seniors during weekly virtual outreach

by Tammy Warren | Presbyterian News Service

Although the virtual YSOP Connex program has been operating only since October, participants so far are giving it a thumbs up. The program provides facilitated conversations on Zoom for small groups of youth from eighth grade through high school and senior adults. (Screenshot provided)

LOUISVILLE — The Youth Services Opportunities Project (YSOP), a short-term mission program founded nearly 40 years ago by Edward Doty, is continuing its mission — virtually — during the pandemic.

Doty, executive director of YSOP, started the nonprofit organization in the early 1980s to meet the need for meaningful, short-term, direct-service mission options for young people of middle school, high school and college age.

For the past 15 years, YSOP has involved nearly 5,000 youth in short-term mission trips that annually serve more than half a million people in the Washington, D.C., and New York City metropolitan areas. These young people have worked in soup kitchens and food pantries alongside other nonprofit agencies, serving people experiencing poverty, hunger and homelessness.

Since COVID-19 has put a hold on the organization’s direct-service options, a new program, “YSOP Connex,” launched in October, Doty said.

YSOP Connex is bringing together senior adults and students — eighth grade through high school — in curated online conversations using the Zoom platform. The program is helping ease isolation for both age groups during the pandemic.

“It was really nice talking to people outside of school and my family. It was really great hearing their side of the story about what they have been going through during this difficult time. I was there, and others, to talk to them and keep them company. It was really so nice to just get to have a conversation with someone I didn’t know, and get to hear their story, and along the way to also become friends.

— High school Connex participant 2020

“Instead of this being a one-way service project to deal with poor isolated elderly folks,” Doty said, “it’s turned out to be a much more interactive experience. YSOP Connex is more accurately described as an intergenerational project.”

The small group discussions include five students and four senior adults with a YSOP facilitator. They meet on Zoom for one hour a week for three weeks.

Both teens and older adults can participate from anywhere within the United States, Doty said. Registered participants can access the gatherings on computers, tablets and mobile phones.

“During the past many months, we have been living very quietly ‘safer at home.’ This YSOP program gave us a chance to communicate with some thoughtful students and talk with them about their experiences going to school online and their living through this very disruptive time of COVID-19. Our Zoom calls were rewarding, full of vitality, and we appreciated the students’ leadership and our many positive interactions!”

— Adult Connex participant 2020

In the Presbytery of Newton, Patrick Allred, director of Youth and Young Adult Ministries at the Presbyterian Church in Morristown, New Jersey, said that YSOP is the most talked-about experience of the youth he has worked with. He had a chance to meet Doty in January 2020 when his confirmation class volunteered at YSOP and was impressed with YSOP’s focus.

Patrick Allred

“I loved how centered their ministry was on hearing the stories of those that they helped who were experiencing hunger and poverty,” said Allred. His confirmation group will be participating for the first time in the virtual YSOP Connex program in February and March.

Youth leaders in the Presbytery of Newton recently took part in a Sunday afternoon Zoom session to learn more about YSOP Connex.

“For the youth leaders in Newton Presbytery, our ministries look completely different than they did a year ago. It was encouraging for us to hear from Ed, and that YSOP also looks completely different,” Allred said. “Our churches are excited for the chance to participate in Connex. I think Ed’s story will continue to motivate our local youth leaders to reimagine what our youth ministries can do during these pandemic times and what they might be able to focus on in the future.”

“We are asking groups of student participants, if they can, to contribute $125 per five-student team,” Doty said. “So far, we have not charged individual student participants or senior adult participants.”

Edward Doty, the founder and executive director of YSOP

Doty added that the online conversations have been “very positive” and “far-ranging,” with both the youth and seniors each suggesting things to talk about. Some of the seniors have participated a second time with a new group of students and some of the students have signed up to participate in another three-week session with a new group of seniors.

“We have safety protocols in place that insist that the students get permission from their parents to participate, and we go over these protocols with the student before the session starts,” Doty said. “We also ask all the senior participants to fill out a form indicating they will observe basic internet safety protocols, such as use of first names only.”

YSOP and YSOP Connex are rooted in the Quaker principles of integrity, equality, community, simplicity and peace.

For more information about YSOP Connex, visit ysop.org/connex. Reach out to Ed Doty at edoty@ysop.org


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