Annie Wang, '22

February 28, 2022
EMT and healthcare studies major finds connection with seniors in Richmond

Annie Wang, ’22, takes time every week to meet with a resident at The Rosa, a senior housing community in Jackson Ward that has been a place for her of connection and learning.

As a volunteer with the Tuckahoe Volunteer Rescue Squad, Wang saw that the pandemic particularly isolated seniors and exacerbated feelings of loneliness.

"I think such feelings for many seniors were already present pre-COVID, and the adverse health consequences of social isolation among seniors are often overlooked," Wang said.

She reached out to her healthcare studies advisor Dr. Rick Mayes, professor of health policy and chair of UR’s department of health studies, to see how she could help.

Dr. Mayes directed her to the Bonner Center for Civic Engagement (CCE) who introduced Wang to Janei Lofty, community network manager with Enterprise Community Development that manages The Rosa and Highland Park Senior Apartments.

Lofty, who has a master’s degree in gerontology from Virginia Commonwealth University, passionately supports her residents every day and shared with Wang how much letters in the mail are appreciated.

Wang went to work organizing a postcard-making workshop with the Boatwright Library’s Book Arts Studio and recruiting other volunteers. She presented to students in Dr. Mayes’ Healthcare Studies courses and Dr. Jane Berry’s Adult Development course.

Over twenty students attended the postcard-making workshop held on a Friday afternoon under a tent in October 2020, and 150 cards were sent in the mail to residents of Highland Park Senior Apartments and The Rosa.

"Every card and message was unique, and the workshop would not have been possible without Annie’s vision and commitment to engaging with seniors in our Richmond community despite the restrictions of the pandemic," said Alexandra Byrum, director of communications and community relations for Equity & Community.

The following spring semester, Lofty reached out with another opportunity for Wang and fellow volunteers: scheduling COVID vaccines for clinics that would be held at The Rosa and Highland Park Senior Apartments.

"I knew the importance of the vaccine, especially for senior residents at that time who were most vulnerable," Wang said.

As with the post-card making initiative, Wang mobilized volunteers who worked together to schedule the appointments and follow up with reminders.

"Annie's stewardship and diligence in whatever duty she was given revealed her heart for others," Lofty said. "Her ability to gather her peers to serve alongside her, as well as her ability to arrange her schedule to extend herself to serve more, were all examples of how she allowed her light to shine during a time when so many other things going on in the world seemed dim."

After the vaccine clinics, Wang went on to conduct a phone survey to help Lofty learn what activities residents would be interested in as pandemic restrictions lifted.

"Conversations would range from five minutes to 30 or 40 minutes," Wang said. "Some people would tell me about their day or recent hobbies they had picked up, and I'm glad that I was able to be that person to just listen. I think really hearing someone is so important, and we shouldn’t underestimate the value of that."

This year, Wang has been offering weekly computer lessons – focused on everything from typing to logging into Zoom – for one resident, Mr. Winston.

"Everyone is unique and needs support in different ways." Wang said. "Mr. Winston and I are both students, though I believe I learn more from him than he does from me – above all, however, we’re a team."

After her graduation from UR, Wang will begin medical school. When asked if she had any advice for other students interested in getting involved, she shared, "There are incredible people and resources at UR. Go for it and reach out, whether that be to peers, faculty, or the CCE – they’re all here to support you and can help get you to the right place."