By Madison Kane
Jericho High School junior Ruby Shanker spent a great deal of time playing cards and hanging out with her grandparents during the COVID-19 quarantine. This led her to begin a nonprofit organization called the Young Hearts Club dedicated to enriching the lives of elderly residents of assisted living facilities.
Shanker could not imagine her life without her grandparents, which reminded her about those who reside in assisted living homes and are unable to see their grandchildren or family members.
She said, “I thought that there were a lot of people in assisted living and a lot of people in high school that didn’t get to have that type of relationship with their grandparents or their grandchildren. I wanted to give people the same experience and the same relationship that I had with my grandparents, who are fortunately still alive. That’s why I decided to create the club.”
What started off as an idea in a young mind, sprouted and grew into a reality in February 2021. Shanker got in touch with a family friend who works at the Atria Senior Living on Roslyn Harbor. “My very close family friend works there in the kitchen facility, so she was able to give me a lot of connections to the activity center and that’s where I met the activity head and we started working together,” Shanker said.
Her idea attracted another Jericho High School junior, Tess Silverman. She saw Shanker’s post on Instagram and immediately loved it. Silverman lives with her grandparents and has worked in nursing homes and assisted living facilities before, so Young Hearts was right up her alley. “Being involved in this club has opened my eyes to new relationships that I never thought I would value,” she said.
Through the use of social media, specifically Instagram, the Young Hearts Club has spread drastically. Many people have contacted Silverman and Shanker to start a new branch. Since 2021, six more chapters of the Young Hearts have been started nationwide.
Westchester, Manhattan, Melville, Plainview, Livingston, NJ and Cleveland are offshoots of the original Jericho chapter. Word of mouth communication also played a very important role in the expansion of YHC. Silverman said, “It was a lot of mutual friends and mutual connections. My camp friend is starting a branch in her school with her friends.”
The seven branches are merely the tip of the iceberg. Shanker said, “Because of our Instagram and also because of these connections, we have seven branches, but we’re working to get around 10 by September.”
The aspect of Young Hearts that makes it stand out so much from other community service clubs are the atypical relationships formed between residents and club members. For the past year, Shanker, Silverman and their secretary, Elana Kane, have met a plethora of residents, but someone who they felt a strong connection with was Gerry Goldner.
Goldner is 102 years young and has been living at the Atria on Roslyn Harbor for a little over three years. Gerry has attended almost every single Young Hearts event. She said, “I feel stimulated. I get a lot of vibes from them. They are so patient with us and so beautiful. I love it.”
Goldner has touched the hearts of the Young Hearts members in many ways. Tess has felt especially touched by her.
“We did Zumba and she is 100 years old, and she was getting up and dancing with us,” Silverman said. “She is so personable. I think our club really touched her when her late husband died and she was on bed rest in her room and wouldn’t get out of bed. We went over with pumpkins and stickers to give her to decorate, and Meagan said that’s when she turned around and everything changed.”
Shanker, Silverman and every member of the Young Hearts Club has made a difference in the lives of elders near and far. Much love is given for both recipients and the dynamic formed between residents and club members is very special. Goldner said, “We love the Young Hearts for having such patience, understanding, and love.”
For more information on how to get involved with the Young Hearts Club, email email@example.com or direct message @clubyoungheart on Instagram.