The Papa app connects seniors with college aged students for companionship.
When 67-year-old retired school teacher Barbara Marks developed early symptoms related to Parkinson’s disease in 2013, she didn’t feel safe driving alone, and she also needed help with some everyday tasks such as carrying her groceries.
“I don’t have any family close by, (and) with my son and daughter-in-law working, there’s no way they could have helped,” the retired school teacher living in Deerfield Beach, Fla., told Moneyish.
Then she stumbled on a Facebook ad for Papa, a service that allows senior citizens to hire college-aged students for help with such daily chores, and decided to give it a try. Now she pays $20 an hour to get help troubleshooting her tech problems, driving to doctor’s appointments, running errands — and just having someone to chat with.
Marks was paired with Alan Golan, 24, who started working for Papa full-time to make ends meet when he couldn’t find a sales job. He’s been helping Marks for around six hours a day on weekdays for the past six months, earning $12 for the first hour, and 17 cents per minute (or about $10.50 an hour) after that. A typical day includes accompanying Marks to appointments and helping out around the house; he’s also taught Marks shortcuts that help make texting and Googling things much easier. In return, Golan says that he’s found a love of caregiving, and a newfound friendship.
“Barbara and I get along so well,” said Golan, adding that he see Marks as more of a friend than a boss. “The day-to-day conversation and banter is really funny. The way we interact now is really fun. I care about her; she’s like family.”
Maintaining companionship and being socially active is crucial to our health and overall wellness as we age. A slew of research suggests that loneliness and isolation can take a dire toll on elders physically and mentally. More than 40% of seniors experience loneliness on a regular basis, according to a recent University of California, San Francisco study.
Papa founder and CEO Andrew Parker saw this need with his own grandfather. He didn’t need assisted living; just some help running errands and being kept company during the day while Parker was at work and couldn’t care for him.
“My grandpa — Papa, as we used to call him — needed homecare, somebody to take him to the doctor or to get groceries,” Parker told Moneyish. So he posted a Facebook status on his personal Facebook page asking for help, and found a college student who was a perfect match. “It was really the right fit; he loved it,” Parker added. “It took the burden off my family worrying about how he’d get around safely.”
Parker realized there was a market for seniors who don’t need a caregiver or nurse, but a companion, instead, who might be able to teach them new skills. So hiring tech-savvy Gen Zers was a no-brainer. Parker tested the idea out on some of his other friends with elder family members, and realized he had a smart business idea on his hands. He launched the service earlier this year, naming it after his “Papa.” It’s available exclusively throughout Florida cities such as Miami, Fort Lauderdale and Fort Myers for now, and Parker plans to expand the business in New York early next year.
“In the U.S. alone, 10,000 people turn 65 every day, and there’s got to be a new way to support them. The same way there’s nurses and doctors, there Papa ‘pals,’” Parker said. “Were not a home care company; we’re grandkids on demand.”
Seniors 65 or older who want to access Papa can call an 800 number located on the website or book online, and Parker notes that 95% of his business from seniors is conducted by phone. Gen Z and millennials who participate as “pals,” as the service calls them, use an app to get workplace updates and information on prospective clients, and receive about 50% to 60% of the revenue. For an extra $30 through Papa’s premium service, seniors can hand-pick their pals, but Parker says many of them prefer to be matched at random. The participating seniors are age 75 on average, and the oldest member is 94.
Similar companionship programs already exist for people who enjoy their independence, but need help with some activities. Visiting Angels, for example, is a national service that provides seniors with someone who can prep meals, do light housekeeping, run errands and keep them company. However, these“Angels” are not necessarily all going to be college-aged students, and the site doesn’t specify if there’s an opportunity for seniors to learn new skills. On average, prices range anywhere from $15 to $40 per hour for intermittent help — medical or personal care — and $120 to $200 per day or more for live-in care if needed. And Room2Care is another service for seniors to find roommates, so-to-speak, by moving them into a caregiver’s residence as opposed to moving into an assisted care facility, so that they can have the support and company they need closeby while still maintaining their independence.
Papa advertises on career sites for college-aged students to join the platform, but they must pass a strict vetting process that includes a background check. The company administers a personality questionnaire first, asking things such as, “What do you want to do when you grow up?” “How do you get along with your family?” to get a sense of how each Papa “pal” will fare with particular clients, as well as more practical questions like “Do you have a car?” to find what services they can provide. While students who are majoring in nursing, biology or going into pre-med are ideal candidates, there is no specific college major requirement to be considered for the job.
“We make sure we’re getting high quality, trusted individuals,” said Parker.
It’s important to note that Papa “pals” differ from primary caregivers; the latter’s responsibility is typically to live with, administer medication and look after someone who is chronically ill or can’t take care of themselves. Caregiver or health aide jobs sometimes require licensing or certification, especially for those providing medical care. What’s more, the average hourly cost of one home health aide is $21, and can add up to $40,320 a year, according to according to Mass Mutual, compared to the $20 an hour cost for Papa pals.
There’s been a growing need for at-home assistants in recent years. The market for healthcare support is projected to add a staggering 5,266,000 jobs in 2022, according to Census Bureau data.
That’s because 28% of people aged 65 and older (or 11 million men and women), live alone, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.And as more adults are not having children, the AARP reports, seniors are increasingly less able to rely on family members to keep them company or lend a hand. Yet 7% of adults age 65 and up want to stay in their current home and community as they age, rather than relocating to an assisted living facility.
“With more people choosing to age at home, services such as Papa can serve the niche market of seniors with the means to secure concierge-type service,” Teresa Ghilarducci, a retirement expert and professor of economics at The New School told Moneyish. “We also need to find a way to provide necessary services to the less well-off, who the market doesn’t serve as well, through expanded access to quality home health aides who are paid a living wage.”