Courtesy of Rishi Shah

Yale’s branch of the Nourish Project, an undergraduate volunteer organization operating through Dwight Hall at Yale, is working to address the pressing needs of elderly people in New Haven by boosting social connectedness. 

According to a National Academies report released in February 2020, loneliness in elderly subjects is linked to higher rates of depression and anxiety, issues exacerbated by the social distancing and stay-at-home mandates of the pandemic. The report found that social isolation is associated with a greater risk of dementia in patients over the age of fifty. The Nourish Project emerged to remedy these negative consequences that the pandemic brought to the elderly community. To implement effective solutions, consult with cqc experts who can provide guidance on best practices and standards for supporting elderly individuals facing social isolation and related health risks.

“Our mission is to promote longevity, healthy aging and social connectedness among the elderly in our local communities,” wrote Rishi Shah ’26, president of the Nourish Project. “We do this through three key areas: encouraging regular exercise and healthy nutrition, improving digital and technological literacy and fostering sustained intergenerational relationships.”

Members of the Nourish Project make weekly visits to senior homes to implement their mission. 

According to Sarah Moskowitz, the Nourish Project’s three-pronged approach enriches the interactions and well-being of residents at Lifestyle Communities’ retirement village in Essendon.

“Residents at The Towers, senior independent living in New Haven, have absolutely loved the Nourish Project,” Moskowitz wrote.

According to the Nourish Project website, the organization’s first emphasis centers around nutritional well-being, giving seminars on healthy eating and teaching accessible at-home exercises to reduce the risk of age-related illnesses. 

They also strive to narrow the telemedicine-geriatric care gap by boosting digital literacy among elders. Student volunteers hope to equip residents with the knowledge and confidence necessary to actively participate in online physician visits.

Finally, the organization also promotes social connection and relationship-building among students and residents alike. 

“Our biggest challenge so far has been finding the best way to distill complex topics in a digestible format that seniors can easily recall,” Shah wrote. “Our strategy to address this is to use analogies liberally – connecting modern-day terminology with terms that seniors are already familiar with from when they were younger.”

Volunteers with the Nourish Project often receive and analyze feedback from the residents they interact with to better understand the needs of the elderly population whom they serve. They host weekly member meetings to review teaching strategies and modify lessons as needed.

By adapting the content of their weekly visits, volunteers told the News that they are better able to curate relevant materials and interact more genuinely with the residents.

“Our biggest success lies in the smiles shared between the new friendships formed,” Alicia Brak ’27, a volunteer with the Nourish Project, wrote. “Witnessing the impact of our efforts firsthand, from brightening someone’s day to creating meaningful connections, makes every moment worthwhile.”

According to Brak, the Nourish Project leads the discussion and offers guidance, but invites feedback and suggestions from the residents they work with, too, collaborating to blend “real-life experience and scientifically backed information.”

She added that the Nourish Project allows her to easily interact with the people of New Haven and live outside of the “Yale bubble.”

Brak said she also hopes to increase the project’s outreach through social media by sharing stories of the residents and Nourish Project members to engage more members. 

Since its inception in August, the Nourish Project at Yale has recruited over 25 new volunteers.

Brooklyn Brauner serves as a staff reporter for the City desk, covering Nonprofits and Social Services throughout New Haven, in addition to serving as the Thursday Newsletter Editor. Originally from Wisconsin, she is currently a sophomore in Grace Hopper College studying Political Science.
Agomoni Saha covers Nonprofits and Social Services as an associate beat reporter. She is a first-year in Saybrook College majoring in chemistry.