High school club builds intergenerational relationships


John Claude Shaffer, Elder Outreach Club founder, interacts with an assisted living facility resident (Credit: Elder Outreach Club, South County HS)

Today, St. Patrick’s Day, a group of students from South County High School (HS) in Lorton is making a special delivery to residents of some local assisted living facilities.

South County HS’s Elder Outreach Club — founded in 2020 by then-sophomore John Claude Shaffer — aims to reach out to older residents of senior living communities to socialize, provide companionship and promote intergenerational exchange. While COVID-19 pandemic precautions initially prevented club members from having direct contact with residents, recent improvements in the local health situation have enabled small numbers of students to hand-deliver letters and drawings, and chat with residents.

According to Shaffer, the club has strong participation at South County, where it has grown to 90 student members in its second year. The club’s founding during the early days of the pandemic — when many people were experiencing isolation — was ideal, said club sponsor Ronielle Romney, librarian at South County HS.

The club’s outreach to older adults was “something positive” during the pandemic, said Romney. “It was really the perfect time to get the club started.”

Originally the Elder Outreach Club worked with just one facility located across from the school, Harmony at Spring Hill, but as club membership grew, it expanded its outreach to Heatherwood Retirement Community in Burke. Shaffer also is branching out to other local schools, hoping to interest them in forming similar clubs that connect with assisted living facilities in their respective areas. Already Bishop Ireton in the City of Alexandria has gotten involved, forming a club with around 30 student members.

Shaffer also hopes to expand the types of interactions students have with residents of senior living communities, health conditions permitting, including more on-site visits and activities like musical performances. He was particularly excited about a recent opportunity he had to play piano for Heatherwood residents.

“They loved it so much they yelled out ‘Encore!’,” said Shaffer.

Shaffer said the club also would like to offer more services to local facilities, including live musical performances by professionals, if the club is able to raise money for them. One local business, Easterns Automotive Group, recently stepped up by contributing gift bags for residents as part of a FOX 5 “Pay It Forward” spotlight on the Elder Outreach Club. Those gift bags and hand-written letters from club members are being delivered today as a St. Patrick’s Day gift.

St. Patrick's Day gift bags for residents of assisted living facilities (Credit: Elder Outreach Club, South County HS)

Schools, businesses or other organizations that are interested in learning more about the Elder Outreach Club or forming partnerships are welcome to reach out to Romney.

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