Tandem, an organization founded by twins Arianna and Lorenzo Martinelli of Louisville, matches and facilitates interaction between seniors and high schoolers. They are currently developing an app, Tandem, that will have its third release in April. They state that their mission is to create a safe and accessible environment for high schoolers to benefit from seniors’ mentorship while seniors stay connected with the younger generation. Several Ursuline Sisters of Louisville are participating in the program, and Arianna, a senior at Sacred Heart Academy, was recently honored with the Ursuline Education Network Service Award. The following is her essay submitted to the Ursuline Education Network, and published here with her permission.

It was a Saturday evening in May of 2020 when I swiveled around in my black desk chair, my earbuds cord tangled around my forefinger and my phone resting on my knee. While it appeared that I was stuck inside, quarantined with the rest of the world, I was instead listening to stories from decades past. My 90-year-old grandmother was sharing her experience sheltering from the Louisville Flood of 1937. Her story captivated me: a 6-year-old girl fleeing from her home as it was overtaken by the turbulent waters to the safety of the Ursuline Sisters’ East End campus. Just as vividly as the devastation and loss of the flood, she fondly recalled the kindness and love of the Sisters. 

Over our frequent calls, I began to understand not just the facts and figures of my grandmother’s life, but the vibrant stories that constructed its rich tapestry. She passed on to me moments full of life and wisdom, and we both found great joy in companionship. Yet, as the pandemic raged on, my lively grandmother became isolated. Church services, family dinners, and bridge games were canceled, and on our calls, my inquiries about what she had done that day were met with vague answers such as “not much” instead of her usual description of community events and new learnings. This change in my grandmother made me wonder: was she the only one? 

My grandmother was not the only one. Elderly loneliness, an enduring plague among the aging population exacerbated by the pandemic, was touching the world. In Louisville, assisted living home residents eat alone in their rooms, seniors forget the sound of their own voice, and the elderly even die from health complications brought on by loneliness.

Tandem, a fiscally sponsored nonprofit, works to emulate my meaningful relationship with my grandmother through the connection of senior citizens and high school volunteers. From Sacred Heart Academy and Saint Xavier High School (my co-founder and twin brother’s high school), I found eager high school volunteers, many of whom had elderly relatives and deep compassion for senior loneliness.

Since June, Tandem has facilitated weekly 30-minute phone conversations between 12 pairs, enabling over 200 hours of connection. While Tandem high schoolers earn service hours through Tandem, they continue to come back after fulfilling their service requirements for the meaningful relationship with their senior, intergenerational connections driven by shared wisdom, gratitude, and empathy. Seniors including Ursuline Sisters and Xaverian Brothers recount their stories and learnings from life, and high schoolers share their aspirations and different perspectives. 

As Tandem grows, we have big dreams. Our team is working to develop a mobile application to facilitate the connections, and we hope to expand to high schoolers and seniors across the nation. At the end of October, my grandmother, Tandem’s first senior and cheerleader, passed away. She leaves behind a granddaughter, forever grateful for her love, support, and Saturday conversations.


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