The Power of Human Connection

Papa Pal Marcel shows us how he found connection and healing in his work with Papa.

Andrew Parker founded Papa in an effort to help his own papa, Joseph.

Joseph just needed a Pal from time-to-time. Andrew’s family was doing their best to support him, but they knew he needed more. He needed someone to check in on him, to play a game or share a cup of coffee. At times, he needed a ride to appointments, someone to walk around the neighborhood with him, or someone to help him sort out his laundry. After a few months, Andrew’s family saw firsthand the difference this added support made. 

As Papa has grown, our belief in the power of human connection has grown with it. Over the last five years, we have seen time and time again how a simple conversation, a helping hand, or a listening ear can be healing.

There are thousands of stories about Papa Pals and members who discovered the power of human connection, together. Something special happens when two people spend time together, help each other, and in doing so, change one another’s lives. This life-changing power doesn’t just impact Papa members, but also the Papa Pals themselves. 

One such story is that of Papa Pal Marcel, and his member Stephen.

Documenting Marcel and Stephen’s story

When our team at Papa first set out to document what it’s like to be a Papa Pal, we honed in on Marcel and Stephen. We noticed that the pair had done several months of repeated weekly visits, and that Stephen was requesting Marcel as his Papa Pal every week. It was clear from the visit log that Stephen really relied on Marcel’s help, so we reached out to see if they would be willing to share their story.

They agreed.

After a few initial prep calls, we rounded up a documentary team consisting of a filmmaker, a photographer, and two Papa staffers and headed to Stephen’s apartment.

When we first arrived, the first thing we noticed was how connected Marcel and Stephen seemed. As soon as Marcel walked into the door, the pair fell into easy conversation, talking about their families, their weekend activities, and Stephen’s cat, Bobo. 

As we set up the camera equipment, Marcel helped Stephen, who is visually impaired, find a cup he was looking for, and then helped him find his way to a comfortable seat. As Marcel walked through the kitchen, he looked at the wall and noticed a piece of loose trim. He immediately told Stephen, and a few moments later, they were on the phone with the apartment super asking about getting it fixed. 

Marcel explained, “The first thing I do when I come to Stephen’s is I always make sure there isn’t anything sticking out or lying around that Stephen could trip on or bump into.” Marcel told us that his father is also visually impaired, and from that, he gained an understanding that allows him to implicitly know what help Stephen needs.

Once we set up our equipment, we asked them to allow us to document what they normally do during a Papa visit. Together, they did normal, everyday things as we watched from behind our camera lenses: They fed Bobo, they washed a few dishes, they tidied up Stephen’s living room, and they played a game of Dominoes. Later, they walked to Stephen’s mailbox and picked up his mail. As they walked past a tree, Marcel held up a hand to make sure Stephen didn’t hit his head. As a car came up behind them, Marcel carefully helped Stephen move to the side of the road. 

As they did each of these simple, everyday tasks, the care that Marcel and Stephen felt for each other became more and more evident. 

Marcel’s life-changing impact on Stephen

After watching Marcel and Stephen interact, and after talking to Stephen for just a few minutes, it was clear that Marcel’s visits have changed his life for the better. 

Stephen described a day when he decided to go to the grocery store with a friend who is also visually impaired. Together, the two navigated the city bus and started the walk from the bus stop to the store. Somehow along the way, they got lost, and ended up walking on a crowded street with traffic racing around them. Stephen said this terrifying experience helped him to realize that while he is self-sufficient and can do things on his own, he doesn’t have to.

He has people in his life who are willing to help.

When Stephen’s health plan let him know he had access to help from a Papa Pal, he knew it was exactly what he needed. With Marcel, he has someone to help him do those little tasks that seemed so daunting, like walking to the mailbox, or going to the grocery store, or checking his smoke detector to make sure the batteries still worked.

But in Marcel, Stephen also had a friend.

As they played Dominoes, Stephen exclaimed, “This is fun!” 

And we could tell it was—because Stephen and Marcel clearly had a powerful connection with each other. Their friendship was more than just games and chores—it was life-giving, resolute, and compassionate.

Stephen’s life-changing impact on Marcel

Stephen isn’t the only one whose life was changed through their connection.

Marcel is a Veteran who has served multiple deployments. He told us that after he came home from his last deployment, he struggled to reintegrate. He described a day a few weeks after he got home when he realized he needed food. He went to the grocery store and a few hours later found himself standing in the cereal aisle, unable to figure out which box to pick up. 

He told us that he was having a hard time getting out of his own head. His deployment and the things he had faced overseas seemed to be playing on repeat in his mind, a seemingly never-ending series of memories that made him feel trapped and overwhelmed.

A few weeks after that, he saw an advertisement recruiting Papa Pals. He applied, and when he started helping others, he was able to heal himself. He explained that by focusing on how his Papa members are feeling, on what their needs are, on how he can help them, he was able to break the feedback loop of memories of his deployment. He felt like he was able to start living again. 

As Marcel shared his story, our entire team got a bit emotional. We are so proud to employ Veterans like Marcel, and even more proud that our members get the privilege to connect with men and women who have served our country, and who are now serving them. 

Marcel humbly told us that being a Papa Pal changed his life, but after meeting Marcel and watching him interact with Stephen, we are not hesitant to say that Marcel has changed many lives. His kind, thoughtful way of working impacts others with everything he does.

The power of human connection

Study after study, our research team comes back with data that shows human connection is powerful. We’ve seen health outcomes improve when people are partnered with Papa Pals. We have crunched the numbers and seen that companion care can reduce the total cost of care. We’ve watched as human connection addresses every aspect of a member’s whole health

Marcel and Stephen's story is just one of thousands. One glimpse at how human connection is powerful and healing. There are many more, equally powerful, equally telling. There is a lot we can do to get better at making connections

The data is clear, but the stories bring that data to life.

Like Doris, who has been working on getting stronger and healthier with help from her Papa Pal Robin. 

Or Frank, who overcame a terrible accident to find a new lease on life with his Papa Pal Tara. 

Or like Marcel and Stephen, who found hope and strength in each other.

Through all of this data, through each of these stories, and through years of working to bring human connection to our members, we’ve come to the conclusion that the prescription is human.

And we’re here to bring that connection to every person who needs it.