As New York began to feel the effects of the COVID-19 outbreak, Katie Maroldi, a second-year MSW student in Stony Brook’s Social Welfare Program, took one of her professor’s lessons on the negative effects of social isolation and turned it into an interim program to combat loneliness and isolation in the community.
Maroldi used everything she’s learned at Stony Brook’s School of Social Welfare along with her background in public relations at Pace University and her experience as a co-owner of a social media marketing company to launch the organization. She is a New Jersey native but has been living on Long Island for a little more than three years.
“I started this project, GiftsofGab.org, on March 16, which happened to be my birthday. I had a class with Professor Zachary Morris during my first year at Stony Brook, and I remembered him mentioning how loneliness is a major health problem among elders and that is known to lead to detrimental health conditions. When I found out we were going to be social distancing, I immediately thought about how that would affect the older adult population. I wanted to help, while also respecting the University’s goal of keeping us safe and out of harm’s way. That’s how the call-based companion coordination was conceived.”
Maroldi said she found herself with much more time on her hands because her field placement at Peconic Bay Medical Center was suspended due to the pandemic.
“For social work students, you are required to complete a certain amount of hours in order to graduate and to obtain a social work license,” she said. “I thought this could be a win-win for social work students and the community.”
Maroldi immediately began creating the website, then secured University support through Carolyn Peabody, who had been one of her professors during the prior year.
Peabody, a clinical professor and PhD, is director of Community, Policy and Political Social Action Specialization in the School of Social Welfare.
“Dr. Peabody is very knowledgeable about activism and philanthropy, so I knew she would be a perfect fit,” Maroldi said. “She volunteered to come on as a field advisor for the project, and we have been working together ever since. She has been such a vital part of this project, and it’s really an honor to have her onboard.”
Maroldi serves as a companion coordinator assisting student companions to make weekly calls to their community counterparts.
“I set the calls up and do intake, and Dr. Peabody oversees us all and provides guidance and weekly supervision. We have six student volunteers right now,” Maroldi said.
GiftsofGab.org is currently directing its outreach to the Long Island region but will expand based on community needs. Although it focuses on the elderly community, it will not turn down anyone that requires companionship as long as the resources to provide that are available.
“In regular times, society can be very alienating for people who are older or in certain groups,” Peabody said. “The lockdown necessitated by COVID-19 has only exacerbated the isolation and loneliness. Katie has done an amazing job developing a project that brings School of Social Welfare students with a passion and commitment to service to reach out and provide some human and life-affirming connection to people who are socially marginalized during this crisis. All of us will at some point rely on the kindness of others. GiftsofGab.org helps to remind people of our shared humanity and that we are all in this together.”
The organization is also beneficial to student social workers, Maroldi explained.
“Due to the restrictions around the coronavirus, many students who are interning in various social work settings are now unable to return to their field placements,” she said. “Nonetheless, students are still required to complete a certain amount of hours in order to graduate and obtain a social work license. This program gives them that opportunity.”
— Glenn Jochum