Lori’s Hands is a nonprofit organization that pairs college students with community members who are managing chronic illnesses. What started as a registered student organization on the university’s campus 11 years ago has grown into a larger nonprofit organization, expanding its reach to Johns Hopkins University, Wilmington University and Delaware Technical Community College.
Students help their clients with activities made difficult due to their medical condition, such as cleaning or grocery shopping. In the process, they also provide companionship and form lasting relationships.
“We really consistently see that our students and clients find some unique similarities and ways to connect,” Maggie Ratnayake, the program director, said. “In terms of personality, we really find that we couldn’t orchestrate the connections that really just naturally evolve.”
Many of the students who are part of the organization are planning on entering careers in various healthcare professions, but Ratnayake said that there is a range of majors, and it is by no means a requirement. If a student has a particular interest in a specific career field or disease, they try to pair them with a client with that disease.
Lori’s Hands provides help to their clients in five different service areas: improved access to food and nutrition, improved home environment, improving coordination and access to care, improving physical activity and improving social connections, and providing companionship.
Providing companionship has been especially difficult to provide during the pandemic, as students cannot see their clients in person.
“Certainly it has been amplified during the pandemic, but beyond, individuals who may be homebound or who are not getting out of the house very frequently are more prone to isolation and to loneliness,” Ratnayake said. “Our students going in pretty consistently just to provide social support is extremely beneficial.”
Rachel Titus, a senior health behavior science major, said that she has not seen her client in-person since March 2020. However, she and her Lori’s Hands partner, senior health behavior science major Sarah Sturgill, were able to visit their client at the nursing home she lives in, although it was only through a window.
“We were able to visit her through a window,” Titus said. “She’s on the first floor, and we went up to the window; and we called her, so she could see us through the window.”
Before the pandemic, Titus and Sturgill’s visits to their client would mostly consist of companionship and help with small tasks around the house like cleaning and doing laundry.
“She really liked to cook, but she didn’t have as much function of her hands and legs as she used to,” Sturgill said. “So she would kind of explain to us how to make this recipe, and we would be her arms and legs and mix that together and hopefully get it as close to tasting [like] she made it.”
Lori’s Hands is not only helping the community members, but it plays an important role in the students’ lives as well. According to Titus, the organization has helped her decide what she wants to do for a career.
“For a while, I thought that I really wanted to work with kids as an occupational therapist,” Titus said. “But after working with Lori’s Hands, I started to develop more of a love and an appreciation for working with older people because they have so much to share, and they’re so grateful. I feel like it’s really prepared me to be an awesome practitioner in the future, and I’m really excited to use what I’ve learned with Lori’s Hands in the future in my program.”
Titus and Sturgill said that Lori’s Hands has helped them hone valuable skills as future healthcare professionals.
“I’m going to occupational therapy school next year,” Sturgill said. “So [it’s been beneficial] seeing the struggles of living at home, living independently with chronic illness, but also transferring to a nursing home, [which] I’ve been able to see through my client. The effect [that] has on them has been what I learned the most.”