Kylee Colby’s Big Idea | South Georgia Magazine


Help veterans connect with students

Due to COVID-19 restrictions, the lack of direct contact with friends and relatives has been difficult for older veterans staying in the Community Living Center (CLC) units at Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center in Augusta , Georgia.

Prior to earning a Bachelor of Science in Leisure and Tourism Management in May, Kylee Colby (’21) completed an internship at the center. She could see that the veterans were going through a difficult time. So she had an idea to help.

“I’m a military kid,” Colby said. “And I had the chance to work with veterans as a recreation therapist for my internship. As part of that, I had to create a program that could be implemented with the veterans. Due to the COVID-19 restrictions, there was a lot of social isolation with this specific population. It was very evident that these veterans were struggling, unable to spend time with their friends and family. “


Colby came up with the idea for “Portal Pals”, a play on the term “Correspondents”. Colby’s program connected Georgia Southern students with individual veterans for weekly discussions using Facebook portal devices connected to large televisions in CLC units.

“I saw the need to give veterans a social outlet,” said Colby. “And by putting the students in touch with these veterans, they were able to speak with someone to help reduce that sense of social isolation they were experiencing. I was easily able to find Georgia Southern students who were interested in participating.


Danielle Berryhill, another recreation and tourism student who will be finishing her degree in August, was interested in participating.

“I was extremely excited to get involved because I wanted to give back to the veterans,” said Berryhill, who speaks with an Army veteran. “At first it seemed stilted, but now it feels more like a friendship than an awkward conversation. We’re just talking about everything. Just having the conversation and hearing the stories he has lived through serving. It’s just nice to be able to give it back to him because he’s given up a lot.

“A common diagnosis of veterans is Alzheimer’s disease or dementia,” Colby said. “Social isolation has a detrimental effect on this population. These calls helped with that.

“I was never someone who imagined working with seniors,” said Student Volunteer Lauren Kress. “My veteran suffers from dementia. I was a little scared to do this, thinking I would feel really sad for him. But at the end of the call, he said “thank you for speaking with me”. He’s so excited just for that weekly call. So, it made me excited to call him every week too.

Veterans aren’t the only people who have benefited from Portal Pals.

“It also benefits the students because they are very exposed not only to the veteran population but also to the senior population,” Colby said. “And so it may be helpful for their future endeavors in terms of finding jobs and having things to talk about in interviews. It also counts as volunteer time toward graduation.


Colby says the project had several goals.

“We wanted to reduce the social isolation of veterans, facilitate intergenerational learning between veteran and student, provide fun to reduce apathy or depressive symptoms, and give veterans time to remember. Memories are part of cognitive stimulation that helps them not cognitively decline so quickly. Their memories of the past are easier for them to remember than memories that are more present. “

As the program facilitator, Colby’s role was to observe the calls and intervene if she saw a problem developing. She also gained valuable experience in documenting the process and the results. She said documenting everything was crucial.

“One of our things that we like to say is if you don’t write it down, it didn’t happen,” Colby said.

Colby was amazed at the positive effects the program had on veterans and student volunteers.

“I continually received text messages from students participating in the program thanking me for the opportunity. They really enjoyed talking to their veterans every week. And they had great experiences. Through the calls, you could just see the veterans and the students smiling throughout this one. “


Colby now has a job as a recreation therapist at the Lighthouse Care Center in Augusta. Even though she is no longer there as an intern, the VA plans to continue her program.

“VA therapists have seen the benefits and want to continue Portal Pals,” Colby said. “They took it back for me because they liked it, and they think it’s very beneficial for the veterans.”

And when asked what she personally got out of the program, Colby quickly has an answer.

“Growing up as a military kid, I felt like I was serving my community because I didn’t have a hometown,” says Colby. “So my community is my hometown. And it was really special to be a part of it. LiWalker


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