Students bring virtual talent show to nursing home residents amid COVID-19

June 19, 2020

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State’s community ambassadors are students who work with the Office of Off-Campus Student Support to promote positive relationships and change through “random acts of community.”

Those acts have previously involved small gestures, such as bringing thank you notes with coffee and donuts to police officers and firefighters, or taking flowers to a neighbor. Even with the onset of COVID-19, the ambassadors remained dedicated to their goal, looking to online options for continuing this work and engaging with community members in uplifting ways.

Annette Tull and Megan Schwarz, two community ambassadors, brainstormed a video project because it felt like the most personal way to connect while following social distancing guidelines.

“I noticed that those in nursing homes weren’t able to have visitors because of the virus,” said Tull, a junior studying biobehavioral health. “We wanted to do something to cheer them up and felt a video would be the most entertaining platform and the closest they could get to interacting with the outside world.”

The community ambassadors worked to contact other students, family members, and friends through various channels asking them to share videos or selfies. Students were encouraged to send videos of themselves demonstrating a talent or to send selfies that could put a smile on nursing home resident’s face.

The resulting video is a cross between a greeting card and a virtual talent show. Video contributions ranged from students playing musical instruments and singing to hula hoop dancing to creating crochet gnomes. Students also submitted selfies with pets as well as inspirational signs and messages.  

Student holding up two crochet gnomes

Brett Green, one of the video contributors, shows off the crochet gnomes he makes. The video includes student talents from singing to playing various instruments, to hulu hoop dancing. 

IMAGE: Penn State

“The community ambassadors were very concerned about how the residents of senior living communities were doing with all of the restrictions on visitation in place, and the resulting isolation,” said Kelly Mroz, interim director, Off-Campus Student Support. “They wanted to reach out and show their support but found out that sending physical greeting cards was not an option right now. The digital greeting card and talent show was the result of their desire to meaningfully connect with and make an impact on these residents right now.”

One of the contributors to the video was Sonic Cheon, outreach chair for the Chemistry Graduate Student Association (GSA). The Chemistry GSA typically participates in outreach events throughout the year, but the students were limited in what they could do this year due in-person events being cancelled. While not science-based, the video seemed like a great way to connect with the community and engage in outreach that was different from what the group normally does.

Cheon, a graduate student in chemistry, is taking saxophone lessons in Penn State’s saxophone studio and he saw the video project as a great way to give back to the community while motivating him to practice. 

Cheon also assisted in recruiting additional student participants among the Chemistry GSA and Graduate Women in Science.

“I think this project is very important because nursing homes are isolated from the community already and with COVID-19, visitation is much harder,” Cheon said. “When I was in high school, I was involved with a club that performed biweekly at retirement homes. Although we were novice musicians, the residents loved seeing us and made us feel very welcome. I hope these videos of us singing, dancing, or crocheting will bring smiles and entertainment for these residents that feel isolated.” 

The Office of Off-Campus Student Support, a unit of Penn State Student Affairs, distributed the video to nursing homes across Centre County via email with an introduction letter providing context around the project and the students’ goals. The video was also shared with contributors with a note for them to send to nursing homes in their home communities.

“Staying home has negatively affected a lot of people’s mental health and I can only imagine how those who are not surrounded by family and friends are feeling during this time,” said Tull. “I feel like this project is so important because we are all in quarantine together. We still need to stay connected and spread joy to one another.”

“We Are” stories

The “We Are” spirit is perhaps more important than ever before, and Penn Staters everywhere are coming together in new and amazing ways. During these challenging times, our community is continuing to realize Penn State’s commitment to excellence through acts of collaboration, thoughtfulness and kindness. As President Eric Barron has written on Digging Deeper, this truly is a “We Are” moment.

Last Updated September 22, 2020