When Andrew Parker‘s grandfather developed dementia, Parker’s grandmother became his full-time carer. But she needed a break from time to time, and she needed to be able to do other daily chores and tasks around the house. The family spent as much time helping out as they could, but it wasn’t always enough. That’s when Parker came up with a plan to pay a college student to sit and talk with his grandfather for a few hours to let his grandmother catch up on housework.
“I said, ‘Hey, can you go hang out with my grandfather and make him a sandwich or something? I’ll pay you, let’s see how it goes.”
It went better than expected. Parker’s grandfather loved having the extra company, and his grandmother loved having the chance to do her own thing without interruptions. The meeting went so well, in fact, that Parker decided it might be worth starting a business to pair up lonely seniors with college students who need part-time jobs, particularly students in medical fields who could also use the job to gain work experience and career-related skills.
And so the 30-year-old from Miami, Florida, started “Papa,” named after his nickname for his grandfather. He believes the service can be invaluable to elderly people who have no family available to visit them or don’t want to be a bother to their families.
The Papa Pals are good for more than just a listening ear; they can also be asked to do simple chores and tasks or can take seniors to doctor appointments, hair appointments, religious services, and more. They can be asked to read a book aloud, give you a ride to the bank, help with meal prep, do the laundry—or even take you for a walk on the beach! Pals are also tech-savvy and can offer computer and other technology lessons for seniors who want to be able to connect to the world around them.
“The biggest thing we’re focusing on is curing loneliness,” Parker says. “If a senior calls they’re not calling and saying, ‘I’m lonely.’ But what starts as a visit to a doctor or a grocery store can go from a two-hour visit to a ten-hour visit.”
The best part is that having a Papa Pal can really be part of the family. “For me, it does feel like family,” says Connie Piloto, who hired a Pal for her 80-year-old mother whose primary language is Spanish. “Mom gets to talk about her days as a youngster. I don’t know what it is with pairing an octogenarian with a millennial, but it works.”
Piloto’s mother was paired with Zuny Meza, who speaks Spanish, plays Cuban music for her to “dance” to in the car, and drives a block out of her way to buy flowers that remind the elderly woman of the ones her husband used to bring her every week.
Piloto says, “These young kids are not scared of new technology and they’re not scared of telling the doctor, ‘We really need to call her daughter,’ and they get on the phone and they FaceTime me. I feel like I can text or get on the phone more easily with Pals than I can with a traditional service.”
Seniors pay a monthly fee to be a part of Papa, as well as an hourly rate when they have a Pal visit them. There are a few different plans to choose from with different rates, the top tier of which allows you to interview Pals and pick your team. Some members have Pals come to their house as often as every day, and same-day scheduling is available.
Undergraduate students and those working on masters degrees, social work degrees, or nursing or medical degrees can apply to be Pals and will have to undergo background checks and a personality test before starting work. They’re also required to own a four-door vehicle.
Papa is the perfect opportunity for college students to earn money and gain work experience, all while helping seniors get the care they need, both emotionally and physically. We’ve got nothing but appreciation and admiration for a symbiotic relationship as perfect as this one! Would you try this service?
Elizabeth Nelson is a wordsmith, an alumna of Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, a four-leaf-clover finder, and a grammar connoisseur. She has lived in west Michigan since age four but loves to travel to new (and old) places. In her free time, she. . . wait, what’s free time?