Ryan Chiao, Photo Editor

On March 4, the Yale Alumni Association and Dwight Hall co-hosted “Support for Seniors: A Conversation with Yale College Community Builders,” a webinar which discussed how two Yale students have engaged in service projects.

The webinar featured two panelists, Ava Thomas ’22 and Jacob Cramer ’22, both of whom founded their own nonprofits dedicated to supporting senior communities. Thomas is the founder and president of Memory Mat Inc., a nonprofit dedicated to helping patients with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia and elders who enjoy reminiscing about the past — the organization creates personalized and laminated mats filled with pictures and phrases to help jog their memories. Cramer is the founder and executive director of the nonprofit Love For Our Elders, which aims to spread love through letter-writing to seniors across the world. The webinar was moderated by Ariel Horowitz MUS ’19, who founded the tuition-free nonprofit The Heartbeat Music Program, which offers music classes to children of the Navajo Nation.

“The topic [for “Support for Seniors”] really centers supporting elders and the work of two Yale college juniors, Jacob Cramer and Ava Thomas, who have founded nonprofit organizations to really further this work and to further connections between [seniors] and the general population,” Horowitz told the News. “Elders are so frequently neglected and marginalized in society, especially during the pandemic. I think the twin pandemic of loneliness in the senior community is really sad, so I [was] looking forward to hearing them speak about their organizations and their work and maybe share some action items for all of us to prioritize our elders and the elders in our communities in a more deep way.” 

The webinar started off with Cramer and Thomas explaining how they started their nonprofits.

Cramer was inspired to start Love For Our Elders when he volunteered at a local senior community after his grandfather passed away in 2010.

“During my awkward teenage years when I often felt alone I found some people who really cared about me,” Cramer said during the webinar. “But I quickly found out that the world didn’t really always care about them. And, in fact, a lot of them would tell me that I was their only visitor and that they hadn’t heard from family in a month.”

Cramer began writing letters to the members of the senior community center when he was 13. This marked the beginning of Love For Our Elders, and since then, the nonprofit organization has expanded to more than 50,000 volunteers from 70 different countries. In 2020, Love For Our Elders mailed out 90,333 letters of love to elders across seven different countries.

Thomas was inspired by her grandfather to create Memory Mat Inc. She recounted how the nurses often had difficulty in starting meaningful conversations with her grandfather at the senior facility where he lived. To help him share his memories with the nurses and caregivers, Thomas created the first Memory Mat — a mat with family photos and suggested topics of conversation. Thomas then would bring mat templates and other mat-making equipment to the senior facility to make mats for the other elders. Although Memory Mat Inc. first began as a service project, it was officially launched as a 501(c)(3) last June.

“Memory Mat Inc. has partnered with Hilarity For Charity, Home Instead, and The Lantern of Chagrin Valley, and received monetary support from Tsai CITY and the Cleveland Leadership Center to expand the reach and impact of Memory Mat,” Thomas wrote to the News in an email.

Cramer and Thomas then answered a series of questions about how to get involved with their organizations and how they see their organizations expanding in the future. They also spoke about some of the most prevalent issues their organizations face amid the pandemic.

According to Horowitz, intergenerational care was also one of the discussion’s themes.

“One of the through currents that I’m really hearing for both of [Thomas and Cramer] is actually this really beautiful bringing together of very young people and much older people,” Horowitz said during the webinar. “And I think that that is something that is so, so powerful and this intergenerational work I think is really a cornerstone of community care when we think about how society can come together, especially during times of struggle.”

To learn more about the other webinars that the YAA will be hosting, visit their website linked here.

Kerui Yang | kerui.yang@yale.edu