ANN ARBOR, MI — Bernie Klein’s wife, Nancy, died of COVID-19 in December while at StoryPoint Saline, an assisted living facility.
He was grieving and needed someone to talk to. Luckily, he found a support system in Perfect Pair, an organization created by University of Michigan students and alumni that fosters one-on-one connections between seniors at assisted living facilities and college students.
One of those connections is Klein and UM junior Daniel Wieczorek.
Matches are made based on mutual interests, shared backgrounds and similar hobbies. Wieczorek is studying biomedical engineering and Klein spent more than 30 years as an engineer. The two now meet for an hour via Zoom every Friday and do different activities like trivia and crossword puzzles, or just talk.
They were supposed to meet on Christmas Day, but Klein emailed Wieczorek to say he didn’t want to because his wife had died just three days earlier. Their next meeting fell on New Year’s Day.
“We met on Zoom and I said that what I’d like to do today is just talk to you about my wife, just as a way of helping me grieve,” Klein said. “So, we spent an hour of me telling him how (my wife and I) met.”
Instead of flowers, Klein requested people make a contribution to St. Jude’s Research Hospital in honor of his wife. Wieczorek and his family made a small contribution, and Perfect Pair sent a care package to Klein, complete with brownies and Rice Krispies treats, which Nancy was known for making.
Perfect Pair has helped him immensely in his grieving process, Klein said. It’s also been beneficial for Wieczorek, who said Klein “is like a grandpa to me.”
“He’s super funny and has a really good sense of humor, and it’s just one of those things in the week that you look forward to every week,” Wieczorek said.
Emily Lerner, a UM graduate, founded Perfect Pair after volunteering at assisted living facilities throughout her college career. Well before the coronavirus pandemic, Lerner saw that residents at these facilities were lonely and had lost consistent connections with people.
The pandemic added to those problems, but Lerner and her team pushed to build connections.
“It’s all one-to-one, which is something we think is special and different about this volunteer program,” Lerner said. “We have over 40 matches right now, and we’re currently working with five assisted living buildings in southeast Michigan.”
Perfect Pair is currently working to add a sixth assisted living facility, which will give it four in the Ann Arbor area, as well as one in Farmington and one in Northville, Lerner said. For now, the plan is to keep the program in southeast Michigan, but Lerner hopes to expand to other schools like Michigan State University.
“A lot of the volunteers have said it’s a really great break from school, and it’s a connection that they never would have had outside of this program,” Lerner said. “Some of our pairs are like best friends now, so they’ll call each other outside of their meeting times, and they’re like family.”
More information on Perfect Pair can be found on the program’s website. The program also accepts donations in the form of cash or items on its Amazon wish list.