Minneapolis nonprofit helps isolated seniors stay connected with virtual visits

Barbara LeGrebe participates in a Zoom call through Virtual Visit Friends. (FOX 9)

A college freshman in Minneapolis is finding a way to bring volunteers face to face with senior citizens, who are currently isolated in nursing homes. Within a month of launching, the newly formed nonprofit is expanding across the country.

For Barbara LeGrebe, who lives in a nursing home in Green Bay, Wisconsin, the era of COVID-19 means long days alone in her room.

“It’s boring and I get tired,” said LeGrebe. “I sleep a lot and there’s not a whole lot you can do.”

That’s why she jumped at this chance to chat with a volunteer in Minneapolis. Within minutes, they bonded over talk of puzzles and life in a pandemic.

“When I heard about Virtual Visit Friends, I thought it was a great opportunity to have a conversation with someone at a nursing home who might be lonely and just have small talk,” said Geri Datus-Ward, a volunteer.

“I think it’s great,” said LeGrebe. “It does a lot of good for boosting my moral.” 

Samantha Martin launched the idea for Virtual Visit Friends about a month ago after collaborating with a neighbor, Ian Aizman, who she met through Nextdoor. 

“It started off as a Google Form and has exploded,” said Martin. “We have 300 volunteers as of now. We are working with five homes.”

Now Martin is in talks with 70 additional nursing homes across the Midwest, New York, Florida and Puerto Rico. Executives from Motorola and ADP are reaching out wanting to take part. The concept, Martin admits, at its core is simple and cheap. They set up calls through Zoom calls and connect people with devices they already own. 

“It’s so encouraging to see how fired up people are about this and people with a lot of resources,” said Martin. “That can really take this to the next level.”

While LeGrebe looks forward to someday seeing her family and neighbors again, for now the small talk encourages big smiles for all.

“I wish they would hurry up and find a [vaccine] that would kill that damn thing,” said LeGrebe.

Virtual Visit Friend is in the process of becoming a 501c3. For more information, click here