Despite being home in New York City during Spring Term, Sabrina Salas ’22 has kept active a student organization focused on interacting with Appleton area elderly. (Photo by Danny Damiani)

2 Minutes With … is a series of short features to introduce us to the passions and interests of Lawrence students on and off campus. Find more 2 Minutes With … features here.

Story by Awa Badiane ’21

Opportunities to volunteer from home amidst our new normal are tougher to find. However, Sabrina Salas ’22 has found a way to give Lawrence University students the chance to give back while social distancing. 

As president of Building Intergenerational Relationships (BIR), a student organization that fosters connections with elders in the Appleton area, Salas has organized remote connections between student volunteers and residents of area homes for the elderly.

Despite no longer being able to participate in in-person programs, the anthropology major from New York City still wanted to keep alive the connection between elders in the Fox Cities and Lawrence students during the COVID-19 lockdown.  

“I reached out to both of the elder homes [that we have partnerships with], and I was like, ‘Hey, what are some things we can do to support you guys and help from home?’” Salas said. “One of the staff members responded by saying, ‘It would be nice if you guys sent stories or something.’ That gave me the idea to create a Google forum as a place for students to send stories, photos that are important to them, a painting, or a drawing they made to share.”  

For a directory of student organizations at Lawrence, see here.

It was especially important to provide a space for students to connect with elders during this crisis, Salas said. She’s trying to make it easier to engage with some of the most vulnerable people, helping them feel less alone.  

“That was the idea behind it,” Salas said. “To give something to elders to make them happy and make them smile, especially now because they are definitely not getting visitors, and getting lonely during this time. So, that was kind of the idea behind reaching out. We are in this together.”   

New ways of connecting

The BIR group was formerly known as Glamour Gals. It focused mostly on painting nails and giving manicures to the elderly.

“But the president last year wanted to make the organization more inclusive,” Salas said. “She wanted to include more things, not just painting nails. And since I’ve been president, I have definitely changed the organization from what it was.” 

During non-pandemic times, BIR hosts events at two elder homes and on campus, allowing students to gain volunteer hours while brightening someone’s day.  

“We only do fun events,” Salas said. “Part of our new mission statement is, ‘Students and elders are going to brighten up each other’s day.’ I feel like BIR has lived up to that statement. Every student who was maybe hesitant about volunteering, and they ended up volunteering, they have had fun and leave with a smile.”  

Since taking over the club in the fall, Salas has made the organization more accessible to students, increasing student participation in the process. Unlike previous years, where students would meet with the elders every week, Salas decided to spread out the interactions, making them more intentional. Rather than students going to Brewster Village just to chat, for example, there are now full events for students and elders to participate in. 

“We do paintings with the elderly, we’ve kept up with the spa from Glamour Gals, and we went for a casino day, which turned into a carnival day,” Salas said. “On Martin Luther King Day, we had an event and we did random acts of kindness. There were little stations for the students and elders to create things with the intention of giving away what they created.” 

Awa Badiane ’21 is a student writer in the Communications office.