In the midst of these trying times, many are seeking outlets of joy, peace, and normalcy amongst the chaos. Alayna Rodgers `22, chair of the SLC Community Service Committee, along with her committee members, are no exception. Throughout the pandemic, residents of nursing homes have been unable to see their families or even commune with others in their buildings for quite some time. “The isolation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has been difficult to live through for everyone, but it has especially affected senior citizens in assisted living communities,” says Alayna. “Through this 6 week project, we've strived to give the nursing home residents a weekly letter or Zoom meeting to look forward to. We hope that just having somebody new to talk to and form a connection with will brighten each senior citizen's day, along with the arts and crafts that are sent back and forth between resident and student.”
Students from each division of the school had the opportunity to connect with residents from nursing homes, including Holiday Healthcare: Heritage Center, Braun's Nursing Home, and North River Healthcare. Volunteers filled out a survey ranking various activities and were matched with residents based on their answers. The project has been a great success so far. To kick things off, students and residents completed some "Get to Know Me" activities to share with each other. Rodgers says that since then, “students and residents have sent letters, chatted on Zoom, and done several activities, including coloring sheets, story writing and origami.” The committee has been creative and thoughtful in generating interactive activities for penpals to complete together.
After speaking with the activity director at one facility, Alayna was told that the residents are “always super excited to receive their letters or log on to their Zoom calls on Saturday mornings.” The Pen Pal Project has provided something happy to anticipate for these residents during a period that is mostly lacking in socialization and community. According to feedback from the director at Braun’s Nursing Home, residents are overall very excited to be able to see new faces and talk to other people outside the nursing home, and they have so much fun that they cannot wait until the next Zoom call.
It’s not just making a difference in the residents’ lives, but in students’ lives as well. Shriya Naraya, `23 says, “The Pen Pal Project is a way for me to establish a relationship with another person, even in times like these. Writing and sharing a letter with another person is a special form of connection, and this project has really allowed us to revive it.”
The Pen Pal Project provides a friendly distraction for residents and students alike in the midst of a dark year. The SLC Committee wanted to make a difference in the lives of people who have experienced isolation and loneliness during these times, and the Pen Pal Project has allowed them to do this. Alayna hopes to see even more student-resident involvement in the program going forward. “It really does make a difference, so I hope that more people will see that and choose to participate if they have the time to do so,” she says. To get involved next semester, students can contact Alayna by email to fill out the survey to be set up with their pen pal.
This article was written by Adeleine Halsey `21 who is interning as a staff writer for the school.