OCEAN, NJ – Rafaella Lambrinos, whose family is from Karpathos originally, spoke with The National Herald about the Adopt a Yiayia and Pappou program she founded at St George Greek Orthodox Church in Ocean, NJ, which connects youth and seniors from her church community through weekly phone conversations. Inspired by her conversations with her own grandparents during the COVID lockdown, Lambrinos and her adopted yiayia Bess Peterson shared their thoughts on this beneficial program which has received permission to expand to the entire Metropolis of New Jersey.
TNH: How long did it take to put the program together from idea to realization?
Rafaella Lambrinos: The idea of Adopt a Yiayia and Pappou was born during the early weeks of the COVID lockdown. After weeks of not being able to visit my grandparents, and feeling like I could do more than just call and ask how they were feeling, I came across an interesting list of open-ended questions that I could ask my grandparents. I asked about their first jobs, their least favorite childhood chores, their favorite childhood games, and even some of their biggest disappointments. These questions were so much fun for my grandparents to answer, and I learned so many new things about them. Over time, I developed my own set of interesting questions to ask them, and I started writing their answers down as a keepsake. Hearing my grandparents talk about their childhood made me feel closer to them, at a time when we were physically apart. The positive feeling our conversations fostered made me think about the elderly in my church community. Knowing they could no longer attend church in person, I worried they may be feeling lonely. I decided to share the idea of connecting the youth with the senior members of our community for weekly phone conversations with our GOYA and church family. I presented my idea to my priest, Father Andrew Eugenis, and GOYA advisor, Mr. George Moutis, and about a month later, we were ready to begin.
TNH: What has been the most rewarding aspect of the Adopt a Yiayia and Pappou program?
RL: Personally, meeting and befriending my adopted yiayia, Bess Peterson, has been the most rewarding aspect of the program. I used to see Bess in church regularly, but never spoke to her. Now, I speak to her every week, and we have become good friends. I love listening to her tell me stories of what life was like when she was young, her accomplishments, and her adventures. She also seems to enjoy hearing about what I’m doing in school and my friends. Bess has become family. She has taught me the importance of being true to myself and my values, and of focusing on the positive. Indeed, my friendship with Bess has been the silver lining of the pandemic.
TNH: What was the most challenging aspect?
RL: The most challenging aspect of spearheading this project has been trying to expand it across the Metropolis. Although my program is simple, getting the message across to other churches at times has been difficult. Thankfully, I’ve met so many people who have wanted to help promote my program. It was an honor to receive His Grace Bishop Apostolos’ blessing to expand the program. His Grace connected me with the leader of all youth ministries in our Metropolis, Father Peter Thornberg, who has truly been my guide through this process. Fr. Eugenis and Mr. Moutis have been very supportive and helpful, as has Mrs. Evellyn Leontarakis Tsiadis, who has been instrumental in helping me to grow the program over the last year. In addition, Mr. Jim Kirkos helped me to create a professional video that introduces the program to interested churches. It’s really been an amazing experience.
TNH: What do you see as the future of the program?
RL: I hope to see the Adopt a Yiayia and Pappou program in all churches in the Metropolis, and eventually across the country. There truly are no limitations. It is about taking some time to get to know a senior member of your community. It only requires a phone, a list of interesting questions, and someone to call. It is important to listen to the stories of our elderly, and to let them know their stories matter and that we care. Building relationships is priceless.
TNH: How can others get started? Who should they contact first?
RL: The Adopt a Yiayia and Pappou program is simple. GOYA advisors match interested GOYANs with a senior in their community that would like to receive a weekly phone call. Youth group leaders and advisors who are interested can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or Fr. Peter Thornberg at email@example.com, and I can provide the list of questions, a “how to” video, and an instructional slideshow.
TNH: How did you first hear about the program and what has been the best part of participating in it?
Bess Peterson: About a year ago, I was asked whether I would be interested in receiving a phone call from a member of our GOYA. I was happy to participate, and being matched with Rafaella has been a joy. Rafaella has been the best part of participating in this program. She is so interesting to talk to, and I love hearing about her goals and how she works to achieve them. She is alive. Although she thanks me for being her adopted yiayia, I believe our whole church has adopted her– we all love to watch her grow and be active in our community. We all represent our church and Rafaella is a wonderful representation of our community.