How a female founder is impacting and revolutionizing senior citizen care and intergenerational connections
Written by Impact Hub Houston Team member Nabiha Khetani.
Varina Rush has always carved her own path and believed in herself as a social entrepreneur leading her to where she is today as CEO and co-founder of AmazingBond, a for-profit company revolutionizing senior citizen care by creating a space for them to be seen, heard, and experience vitality. She joined Impact Hub Houston two years ago and shares her story focusing on SDG 3: Health and Well-Being. Varina developed a variety of small businesses starting with selling candy in high school to selling her art and jewelry about twenty years ago. Fast forward ten years, she started practicing yoga to help ease anxiety and used art as a way to create peace in her own life and others. She then worked with veterans struggling with PTSD, recovering addicts, and was an avid volunteer for seniors and caregivers.
“I had volunteered every year with Alzheimer’s Foundation and the caregiver foundation and would donate my time,” Varina said, “and this was really sort of in honor of my grandparents, my grandparents are very important to me. And my grandfather had Alzheimer’s, and my grandmother was his caretaker. And so a lot of times when I volunteered, it was giving back to them, sort of feeding my lineage.”
One day, three years ago, Varina reflected on the work she was doing. She was creating art, she was promoting healthy practices, and she was working with elderly people in her community, so why not create a business out of it? Looking back at her life, Varina says all the things she did unknowingly created this path for her business. When Varina heard about Impact Hub Houston, she was really into the concept of social entrepreneurship and says she joined at the right time. The pandemic drastically changed the plans of AmazingBond, forcing them to pivot and adapt to a virtual world.
“I remember talking to Michelle. We had a call and it was like I was just trying to hold it all together,” Varina says, “and I didn’t even know it but I just needed someone to listen and I had been strong for everyone. And I got on the call with her and I just started crying like…I don’t know what to do. And she gave some ideas, and it just was, you know, she just pumped some extra energy into me. And they’ve been really good at that. So I honestly don’t know, without the support, even if it was just listening, how we, you know, we would have survived the pandemic at certain moments.”
One remarkable moment for Varina was a workshop conducted by Grace Rodriguez on Lean Startup principles. The pandemic completely uprooted the practices of AmazingBond. They were unable to see their seniors, they were all isolated in their homes, and there was no way to help. The workshop taught her to get creative, to think outside the box, and how to work with practically nothing. Varina thought many seniors don’t have access to technology or they simply were never taught how to use it. However, what most of them do have is a phone. From this lesson, SeniorConnect was created.
This program pairs over 100 college and high school students in the Houston area with isolated seniors to have weekly 30-minute meaningful conversations to provide a connection. The program started as a way for students to get volunteer hours, but became something more. With time, students began to have real, meaningful conversations. They started learning things and unexpectedly relating to their seniors. This intergenerational program has connected a group of kids invested in their phones and social media to listen and develop a unique bond with a group of seniors who now feel empowered with something to offer.
“Most people don’t know that the people 85 and older have the second highest suicide rate,” Varina says, “you know, once you get a certain age, sometimes you’re invisible. And, and so they don’t feel like they have a reason to live. And that’s one of the reasons why we created SeniorConnect is…for them to experience that connection and experience the youth, right?”
Help us also celebrate Varina’s recent marriage to Allison Bond, who is both her life and business partner, in the midst of a pandemic. Varina came out to her parents when she was just 13 years old and never thought same-sex marriage would be possible in her adult life. She says the LGBTQ+ community has come a long way and how the world has changed in the last decade is significant. Varina and Allison got married in April 2021 at a place that holds special meaning to the couple: the Houston Arboretum. Every day during quarantine, they would have a 3-mile walk to the Arboretum and give it all to nature. It became a safe and sacred space for them and they knew that was the place they wanted to get married.
“I’m really happy for the young LGBTQ+, I know we still have a lot to go, but just how much more accepting it is in the world today than what I’ve seen. And then I’m also just really grateful that my family has gone through the process. And they were so welcoming to Allison and our relationship. And they actually said, you know, ‘it’s about time.’”
AmazingBond is changing the world for seniors and caregivers by improving their quality of life with therapeutic art, chair yoga, and tai chi. They believe at any age their tactics can be used to have good health and a positive mindset. Learn more about AmazingBond and connect with Varina. Connect with them on Instagram to stay updated on their journey!
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