Connect with us

U.S. News

Veterans, Georgia Southern students find friendships in ‘portal pals’



AUGUSTA, Ga.— The last year has been lonely for veterans living at the Augusta VA. Steven Opelc, an army veteran, has not hugged his family members since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

“With the virus going around, they don’t allow anyone in here [the VA],” he says. “Visitors aren’t allowed.”

But, Opelc has made some new friends, including Kylee Colby. She is a recreational therapy intern at the VA. It was her idea to connect veterans with students at Georgia Southern University.

“It really warms my heart,” Colby says.

Students and veterans use Facebook Portals to video chat every week. It gives them a chance to share stories and learn about each other.

“It’s almost like talking, but you can see it too,” Opelc explains.

What you can not see is how rewarding the experience is.

“It makes me feel amazing,” Colby explains. “I get butterflies in my stomach every time I get off the call.”

Those butterflies will likely stay around for a while. The VA hopes to get more veterans and students involved in the program.

“A lot of veterans say they would do their whole career over again. It just shows how much they love what they did for us and how we should repay them.”

Repaying veterans for their sacrifices can be as simple as having a conversation.

“It can really turn their day around. It’s something great.”