Michigan Marching Band members become virtual ‘pen pals’ with seniors in Ann Arbor

Students launched project to engage with isolated older adults during pandemic

A small number of Michigan Marching Band members pose at the empty Michigan Stadium during a photoshoot.
A small number of Michigan Marching Band members pose at the empty Michigan Stadium during a photoshoot. (E.Bronson/Michigan Photography)

ANN ARBOR – A group of University of Michigan students have been actively engaging with local older adults during the pandemic to help ease their isolation and strike up new friendships.

The project was launched by members of the Lambda Chapter of Tau Beta Sigma, an honorary co-ed band sorority focused on service. Senior mellophone player Bella Stiver came up with the idea to hold regular video calls with seniors, and they got to work searching for a community partner.

“I was excited about this idea because it could be fun for our members at a time when many of us are on campus but not in contact with very many friends,” TBS service chair Cameron Tressler told A4 via email.

The group connected with the Ann Arbor Senior Center and began advertising in the center’s newsletter for virtual pen pals.

After recruiting more members from TBS’ brother chapter Kappa Kappa Psi, 12 pairs of students and seniors have been matched and are communicating on a regular basis.

“Currently, our volunteers have committed to weekly calls to their buddy through the rest of the calendar year, but I will be trying to continue the program into next semester, and I imagine that many of the current pairs will continue to stay in touch for that time,” wrote Tressler.

U-M student Maddy McMillan said talking to her pal has given her a fresh perspective.

“Most of the people I talk to are at similar places in their lives and it’s nice to hear from someone with so much experience in the real world,” McMillan said in a statement. “I also really like how easy it is to talk to my pal. The two of us never run out of things to talk about whether it’s robotic pets or phantom performances.”

Student Rachel Zhang said she shares a passion for medicine with her pen pal, Nancy.

“She’s worked in hospital administration for a long time and she gave me great advice and support for pursuing medicine,” Zhang said in a statement. “In the midst of being stressed about exams, talking to Nancy was the beam of sunshine that I needed to get through my day.”

Out-of-state student Kelly Souza has been taking remote classes from her home in Maryland.

“Chatting with my virtual pen pal has helped me remain connected to the U-M campus and the surrounding Ann Arbor community, as well as learn more about Michigan in general,” Souza said in a statement.

“Additionally, as an aspiring high school teacher, I was so excited to learn that my pen pal was a high school teacher! We had some great conversations about education and pedagogy, and our similar interests made our conversations all the more engaging. I really feel like I’m making a new friend.”


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