If you visit The HeartWise Project’s YouTube channel, one thumbnail in particular may jump out at you: framed in it is a turtle resting happily on pastel-colored pebbles, playing with its new favorite toy, an aquatic plant. The turtle is named Lily, and the video is one of many in the organization’s ever-growing collection, submitted in an effort to bring joy to seniors in assisted living facilities. After all, that’s the mission of The HeartWise Project: to uplift members of older and younger generations alike through creative new outlets.
While the majority of the organization’s work is done through their Call Companion Program, which pairs high schoolers with seniors for weekly thirty-minute phone calls, the LOVE Program is a unique initiative that differentiates HeartWise from nonprofits of a similar nature. It invites volunteers to share videos about anything from dance performances to recipe demonstrations, which are then shown to seniors as “small but mighty” pick-me-ups in their days. Julia Ye, a high school senior and the organization’s founder, says that she loves the ways in which volunteers have stepped out of the box and shared pieces of their lives despite being confined to their rectangular 1080p screens. She’s even seen boutique arrangement tutorials and mini horse shows.
Ye credits much of the success of The HeartWise Project, particularly the LOVE Program, to “the power of the internet.” Truly, it’s hard to believe that before the initiative spanned the globe, its active three-hundred volunteers and sixty facilities were preceded by just a few friends and a singular Maryland senior home, located fifteen minutes from their school. And yet it was.
“I didn’t expect [HeartWise] to become an international thing,” Ye says, noting that their board has members from as far as Jamaica and Indonesia. “We [just] started getting more facilities onboard, and then we had to get more volunteers to match with the seniors. From there, it [became] this balancing act of facilities onboard and volunteers onboard” that resulted in international expansion as the next logical step.
The expansion has only come with benefits. Whether a member of southeastern Pennsylvania’s Bristol Township Senior Center and a volunteer in China are connecting over a shared love for reading, or two Maryland natives are discussing their favorite local destinations, the conversations at HeartWise are genuine and long-lasting. “Our programs really came out of our mission of building connections between people of [older and younger] generations and spreading joy,” says Ye–– and that’s exactly what has happened.
Nevertheless, for as important as these topics are, The HeartWise Project is about more than kindness and connections. Beyond the relationships they’re developing across generations, they also pride themselves on their advocacy work, with mental health advocacy having always been a cornerstone in Ye’s life. In September, they hosted The Stand Up & Stand Out Conference, a summit empowering youth to become “leaders of global change,” with inspiring talks from North American and Indonesian activists. The international event was a sweeping success, and it is only the beginning of HeartWise’s advocacy and youth empowerment-focused campaigns. But no matter what The HeartWise Project chooses to focus its future efforts on, from intergenerational connections to mental health advocacy and youth empowerment, Ye is confident that they will stay close to their roots and continue spreading joy in the years to come.