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Cupid Crew Delivers Heartfelt Messages to Older Adults

Volunteer effort by Wish of a Lifetime from AARP helps fight social isolation

A card with pink purple and red hearts

Girl Scouts of the United States of America/AARP

Mike Ellison:

So, Miss Ellie, I also understand you are quite the artist. I saw a card that you made for a special somebody. Is that right?

Ellie:

Yes.

Mike Ellison:

Nice. And what's your favorite form of art? What do you like to do?

Ellie:

I really like to draw.

Mike Ellison:

Okay. What was it about Cupid Crew that made you want to get involved?

Ellie:

Probably the drawing aspect and the part where you can give it to people who are feeling sad during quarantine.

Mike Ellison:

That’s Ellie, nine years old, taking an interview in between virtual school classes. She’s one of thousands of Girl Scouts around the country who are making cards for isolated older adults this Valentine’s Day. She’s part of the Cupid Crew, a volunteer-driven project from Wish of a Lifetime from AARP.

We’ll hear from Ellie and her mom Kelly Parisi, Girl Scouts troop leader and Girl Scouts of the USA Vice President. They’ll talk about what the program means to them and about their own relationship with their grandparents and adoptive grandparents.

And later, we’ll hear from my co-host Bob Edwards who spoke with Jeremy Bloom -- the Founder of Wish of a Lifetime from AARP, and also the Cupid Crew. He’ll discuss his inspiration for creating the program.

That’s coming up next.

Hi, I’m Mike Ellison with An AARP Take on Today.

 

Mike Ellison:

Every year, leading up to Valentine’s Day, “Wish of a Lifetime from AARP” runs its Cupid Crew project. In previous years, volunteers delivered roses to residents of senior centers and nursing homes.  

However, the program has changed a bit due to the pandemic. Of course, folks are encouraged to send their messages virtually. However, new to the program this year is that Wish of a Lifetime has teamed up with Girls Scouts USA.  

That’s where Kelly comes in. She knew that her troop would love the opportunity to help people in need.

Kelly Parisi:

All of the girls have just been so invested in what they can do to bring joy in our community during these really difficult times. And so at the start of COVID, all of the girls made thank you notes and drawings that we taped to cookies that we donated to first responders. And then I saw this service project and giving back and being of service as part of Girl Scouts DNA.

But for Kelly and her daughter Ellie, it’s not simply a service project; it's personal.  Of course, Ellie talks to her grandparents all the time. All of them...including her adopted grandparent, Ellie’s neighbor named Thu Le.

Mike Ellison:

So, now Ellie, I hear that your grandparents don't live nearby, however, you have adopted a wonderful grandmother and that grandma is your neighbor. Can you tell me about it please?

Ellie:

Yeah, her name's Thu Le and she's really funny, but she also is super scared of Coronavirus, but she got the vaccine.

Mike Ellison:

She did get the vaccine?

Kelly Parisi:

We all are very excited about that.

Mike Ellison:

That's good. And you said she's really funny, what kind of things does she do that you find funny?

Kelly Parisi:

You want to talk about the walk you went on when you guys were picking fruit?

Ellie:

Oh yeah. So we went on a walk around the neighborhood and she brought her daughter's dog and she kept making jokes about how crazy the dog is when he gets home and it was just super funny.

Kelly Parisi:

Didn't she tell you that if people saw you picking fruit just to run and she would get arrested and act like a crazy old lady?

Mike Ellison:

Oh my goodness. That sounds like somebody I want to hang out with. She sounds hilarious.

Mike Ellison:

Hold on! I need to pause here for a moment. Kelly, Ellie and I talked for a while. And just before they signed off of our Zoom call, they revealed something so vitally important: Thu Le isn’t Ellie’s only adoptive grandparent. So of course, I had to share about their other adoptive grandparent: Wayne.

Mike Ellison:

Okay. So now in addition to Thu Le, I understand that you have grandparents on either side of your home now. Thu Le is not your only adoptive, are you just collecting grandparents? What's going on here?

Ellie:

Sort of.

Mike Ellison:

So now tell me about your other adoptive grandparent, which is right next door as I understand.

Ellie:

Mm-hmm. Yeah. Well, Wayne, he really likes cars and he really likes to run. And one day I'm not sure really what happened, but an ambulance showed up at his house and he wasn't there until the next day or so, so me and my friends and made him a card with a car on it and it says, hope you get well fast.

Mike Ellison:

That is fantastic. And so now you keeping in touch with your neighbor as well?

Kelly Parisi:

And that was actually before the pandemic just slightly before. And then I would check in with Wayne, this was early on when we didn't know it was just leaving your house felt incredibly dangerous. And he and Thu Le both have pre-existing conditions so I would go to the market for them and get them things. And when I went over one day and checked in, he said to me, and he goes, hold on one minute, and he goes back into his house and he said, I never got to tell you what it meant when Ellie made me this card. He said, I still keep it on my fridge, it brings tears to my eyes. I've shared it with friends who don't even know Ellie and they cry and cheer up when they think of that. And when I told the Ellie that story, the first thing she said is “who else can we make cards for?” So, this Cupid's Crew project is so up our alley.

Mike Ellison:

Ellie, are you going to leave any grandparents out there for the other kids?

Ellie:

Maybe.

Mike Ellison:

Kelly, what kind of impact are you hoping this outreach effort will make?

Kelly Parisi:

Well, we've seen firsthand during quarantine and particularly with some of Ellie's drawings, what these small acts of kindness can mean to people who are so isolated. At the beginning of COVID Thu Le lost her longtime dog Joey, and she came over. Remember that Ellie?

Ellie:

Yeah, she came over crying.

Kelly Parisi:

She was really sad. And Ellie ran off into her room. And I, at the time thought it was that she was just overwhelmed with watching her be so sad. And she came back out and she had made a drawing for Thu Le. And while it didn't make all of the sadness go away about losing Joey, Thu Le still has this picture on her fridge today and it certainly made it a little lighter. And so, we see what this has done for our one neighbor. And we're excited to spread this to all of our elderly citizens across the country and our community specifically with our troops service project, with Cupid's Crew.

Mike Ellison:

That's fantastic.

Mike Ellison:

 What was the reaction from your troop when you told them that this was going on and that this would be their next volunteer project?

Kelly Parisi:

They were really excited because it's not just older people who are isolated in their homes, it's also young people and they're not able to be with their friends and each other. And so, this is a really accessible activity that everyone can do. It just takes some paper and some crayons and a little creativity. And so, they were excited to be able to do something positive and give back from their own rooms and their own kitchen tables.

Mike Ellison:

And let me ask you this, Ellie, before the pandemic, how did it feel when you volunteer to help out older people?

Ellie:

It was pretty fun just because most of the time they would get really happy and smile a lot and I like seeing that.

Mike Ellison:

So you're happy with other people's happiness?

Ellie:

Yeah.

Mike Ellison:

That is a fantastic quality. And now during the pandemic, how does it feel?

Ellie:

It's kind of increased just because quarantine there is a bit more issues to focus on because of hospital rooms and just more issues.

Mike Ellison:

And you're in what grade did you say?

Ellie:

Four.

Mike Ellison:

Are you sure about that? You're speaking like a seasoned veteran over there. And Ellie, what are you hoping to see from this project? What do you want to come out of this not just for yourself and Thu Le, but for some of your troop mates and for other older Americans?

Ellie:

I just kind of want to see that people are enjoying what I'm making, and my troop members are making.

Mike Ellison:

That's fantastic. How about you, Kelly what do you hope to see from this project?

Kelly Parisi:

I want to see a lovelution. I want to just spread love and kindness and joy. This has been such a rough year for everyone, for parents, for older members of our community, for kids, everyone has just given up so much and if we can connect to each other through kindness and through the kindness of Girl Scouts giving back and paying it forward and that makes someone smile, that is enough for me.

Mike Ellison:

Connect through kindness. I like the way you put that. So, I'm going to ask each of you, what do you suggest to those who are listening and may want to volunteer with the Cupid Crew, but they may be hesitant due to the pandemic where there can't be much contact. What would you say to them?

Ellie:

I would probably say that it's worth it and that it's a really good experience for you and for the people getting the card.

Mike Ellison:

Well said, well said, Kelly, I don't know how you top that. Anything you want to add to that?

Kelly Parisi:

I don't either other than to say, I think kindness is contagious. And I think it's such a beautiful thing to put a smile on someone's face and it's such an easy thing to do. And it really does make people's day and they put it on their fridge and it just stays with them much longer than you can ever imagine.

Mike Ellison:

Coming up next, Bob hears from Jeremy Bloom, the Founder of “Wish of A Lifetime from AARP,” who talks about what inspired him to start the Cupid Crew.

Mike Ellison:

We have a few announcements.

As the first COVID vaccines have become available in the U.S., there have been logistical hurdles to get through, as each state has their own system for how vaccines are being distributed.

For information about your state’s roll-out process, you can visit AARP dot org slash vaccine info for a state-by-state guide. 

Once again, that’s AARP dot org slash vaccine info. You can find a link in our show notes.

Next week on February 8th, you’ll be able to visit the AARP Virtual Community Center. It’s a new online destination where you can find a wide array of free events for self-improvement, learning and fun. 

You can hear talks from popular writers like James Patterson and Dr. Sanjay Gupta, you can get cooking lessons, you can catch a free movie screening, or take a yoga class. There are so many ways to connect. Think of this new Virtual Community Center like your traditional brick-and-mortar community center, but from the convenience and safety of your home.

New activities are added every day, so be sure to check the site often to find the events that appeal to you. We’ll leave a link in the show notes.

And lastly, on Tuesday February 9th, we’ll post a bonus episode of ‘Take on Today’ featuring Jo Ann Allen, a guest host from the WNYC Studios podcast ‘Death, Sex and Money’, and clinical psychologist Dr. Andrea Bonior. Listeners called in to ask questions to Jo Ann Allen and Dr. Bonior about mental wellness and self-care through positive activities available online through the Internet, social media, apps and – of course – podcasts.

It was originally a live tele-town hall event. It was so popular so we’re keeping it on ‘Take on Today’ so you can listen at your convenience. 

It was a great conversation and I hope you take a listen.

 

Bob Edwards:

Our guest Jeremy Bloom is the founder of Wish of a Lifetime. Dedicating the organization to his grandmother, the nonprofit was created to fight social isolation among older adults. This year, the organization is launching Cupid Crew to help those who may need more love during Valentine's Day.

Jeremy, your grandparents played a huge role in your life. How did they inspire you to create Wish of a Lifetime?

Jeremy Bloom:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah, I was lucky enough to grow up with my grandmother who lived downstairs. So, it was my mom, dad, brother, sister, and grandma so I didn't have to go far to hang out with gram. And she was just a remarkable woman and such an inspiration and hero to me. And my grandfather on my father's side was my first ski instructor and taught me to ski by throwing miniature candy bars down the mountain. So just two amazing people and just heroes in my life. And through my trajectory and traverses through professional football player and I'm an Olympic skier, I just saw different countries of how much respect and reverence they paid to older adults and I wanted to do something to contribute to that respect, that reverence. And so Wish of a Lifetime we grant lifelong wishes to older adults. And we recently affiliated with AARP and we couldn't be more excited.

Bob Edwards:

Now, who are the Cupid Crew?

Jeremy Bloom:

So, we, yeah, we started Cupid Crew about five years ago. And we started it with the idea that we just wanted to deliver flowers to older adults on Valentine's Day, knowing that there's about 14 million older adults who are isolated, living alone and it's been one of our favorite programs that we've ever created at Wish of a Lifetime. This year with the pandemic we have a little bit of a twist on Cupid Crew this year, so we've partnered with Girl Scouts of USA and together through Girl Scouts and also volunteers across the country, we're writing cards and we're going to deliver tens of thousands of cards, potentially over 50 or 60,000 cards to older adults all across the country and just offering some love and some inspiration. And hopefully we can brighten their day.

Bob Edwards:

What inspired you to collaborate with Girl Scouts for the project?

Jeremy Bloom:

Well, we've actually wanted to collaborate with them for many, many years and fortunately through the help of AARP we were able to accomplish that this year. I think we believe deeply in the intergenerational connection being pretty tight and sometimes in our country and other places where we're losing that connection between the youngest and the oldest. So, we love engaging young people in our mission to spend time with older adults to learn from older adults. There's so much untapped wisdom there. And so, yeah, we're really excited to partner with Girl Scouts and they're working hard. They're writing their cards and their letters and just writing some really uplifting messages. So, they've been a wonderful partner and a huge help to keep Cupid Crew this year.

Bob Edwards:

What would you suggest for those who want to help their older loved ones stay socially connected, but can't see them due to social distancing guidelines?

Jeremy Bloom:

I think this year has just been unprecedented on so many different levels and really difficult for older adults. Older adult isolation is a huge problem to begin with, even not during a time of a pandemic, but it's been really exacerbated and highlighted this year with folks not being able to hug their grandparents or their parents or their neighbors. And those folks have been living in isolation. And so, we just need to come together and do whatever we can. And I think this is a great way to do it. Anybody can write a card, you can go to the wishofalifetime.org, all the information's on our website. Join us in this movement, go write a card or have your kids write a card or a school group write cards, because we want to deliver as many cards of hope and inspiration and love as we possibly can. So, maybe with your help, we could get over 100,000 messages, which would be an incredible accomplishment and goal. And so, yeah, all the information's on wishofalifetime.org. I hope folks will consider joining us.

Bob Edwards:

Anything else you'd like to add?

Jeremy Bloom:

We hope a lot of people will join us in writing cards and all the information on how to do so is on our website, wishofalifetime.org.

 

Mike Ellison:

The Cupid Crew initiative from Wish of a Lifetime from AARP is running through Valentine’s Day. You can sign up on Wish of a lifetime dot org.

Thanks to our news team.

Producers, Colby Nelson, and Danny Alarcon.

Production Assistant Bianca Trotter.

Engineer, Julio Gonzalez.

Executive producer, Jason Young.

And of course, my cohosts, Bob Edwards and Wilma Consul.

If you liked this episode, share it with a friend and become a subscriber on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Stitcher, or other apps. Be sure to rate our show as well.

For an AARP Take on Today, I'm Mike Ellison. Thanks for listening.

This Valentine’s Day, thousands of volunteers are preparing to deliver heartfelt messages to isolated older adults who may be struggling to stay connected. They're known as the Cupid Crew, a volunteer-driven effort from Wish of a Lifetime from AARP to combat social isolation among older adults. Today, we’ll hear from a Girl Scout and her troop leader as they voice what the program means to them. Jeremy Bloom, the Founder of Wish of a Lifetime from AARP, will also discuss the inspiration behind the initiative.

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