Residents connect with teens through online game

Phyllis Voll looks forward to playing Jeopardy every Friday evening, not as a spectator, but as an active participant.

The Evanston Summit resident is among a group of women who get together weekly to play an online version of the popular game show with volunteers from Horizon Networks, a program that connects residents at seniors' care facilities with high school students.

“It’s a great brain exercise, and it’s really neat to be able to build relationships with students virtually. It’s another great way to connect,” says Phyllis, who has been at every session since it started in April.

Victoria Slany, activity and volunteer coordinator at the Covenant Living facility in Calgary, says the online Jeopardy sessions are a hit.

“The students look forward to Fridays so they can play Jeopardy with the residents. And the residents are the same. They’re excited to chat and have fun with jokes.”

The Jeopardy sessions, which typically last 30 minutes each, are held over Zoom, and two games are played consecutively. But unlike in the television game show, the categories are personalized for the residents. 

Each student is assigned a trivia section and has to come up with Q&As for categories like ’50s and ’60s music, movies, cities of the world or anything that resonates with the seniors.

Nyla Nasir, a Grade 11 student from Ontario who heads the Canada chapter of Horizon Networks, says being part of these sessions, while appreciated by the seniors, also lifts her spirits. “Every time I join a session, all my worries melt away because the seniors are hilarious, super sweet and always make me smile!”

Nyla says the challenges of COVID-19 and its effect on seniors prompted her to find a way to make a difference. “Coming from a culture with a huge value on family and respecting elders, it pains my heart that this is happening when there are so many ways we can and should combat isolation.”

Her group of 23 volunteers, all based in Ontario, does similar outreach across the country, and Evanston Summit promptly responded to its offer.

Nyla recalls the first session as having just four participants, including Phyllis, but says that the size has more than doubled. “The seniors end every Jeopardy session by thanking us and telling us that our parents should be proud of us, and if not, they’re wrong. This one always makes me smile and laugh a ton! It fills me with joy to see how Evanston Summit residents have grown to love it.” 

Phyllis, who helped spread the word about how entertaining the sessions are, says she enjoys connecting with the students and has only praise for Nyla and her team of volunteers. “The best part about this is the camaraderie with the students that run it and also being challenged to answer those tough questions.

“I think the volunteers do a wonderful job, and interacting with young people keeps us ‘young.’ They will be change-makers of the world.”

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