Aaron Lefkowitz was only 16 when he started calling residents at an assisted living community during the COVID-19 lockdown.
Before that, Aaron was a regular volunteer at Arbor Terrace Roseland with a friend, where he “played games with the residents, such as bingo and board games.”
Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, Aaron found a way to transfer his in-person volunteering experience to a digital format. “We set up a video call — it was me, along with the same friend and one of the residents we had met,” he said, “and we started meeting every week for about an hour.”
Aaron helped facilitate setting up another call with a different friend, which proved successful. Soon after, he thought of plans to expand slightly and reach out to more communities. His weekly call became the template for the Conversations to Remember setup.
“I realized that the platform being virtual was an easy, safe way with COVID to volunteer,” he said. When most communities were forced into lockdown as part of safety protocols, volunteering became difficult. In-person opportunities, especially, became obsolete in order to prioritize the safety of communities’ residents.
The Conversations to Remember video call format was not just a solution to volunteering during the pandemic. It proved valuable for anyone looking to use their time in a meaningful way or who may not otherwise be able to commute to see a loved one. Remote volunteering “eliminated some of the other hardships of volunteering.” Aaron said, “There were no geographical barriers. If you wanted to commit an hour of volunteering, it was just the hour that you were on your call.”
Aaron said his academic interest in the brain and dementia started when he was younger. What drew him in is the fact that “there were lots of questions that there are no answers to yet.” Curiosity inspired him to learn more.
His personal experiences also influenced his decision to volunteer with assisted living communities. Aaron shared that his grandmother suffered from dementia. “That exposed me to a very different perspective on the brain in general,” he said. Interacting with his grandmother, as well as other seniors and their loved ones, helped drive him to create Conversations to Remember with the goal of bringing joy and company to seniors.
“I wouldn’t have believed that we’d get here,” Aaron said about the progress Conversations to Remember has made since its launch. Moving forward, he said, “I just would love to continue — we’re helping so many people.”
“I get to see on my own calls the happiness that the seniors get from the program,” Aaron shared, “so I just want more seniors to be a part of this.”